A Worcester Superior Court judge ruled today that a hotly contested election for state representative in Central Massachusetts is a tie, an exceedingly rare result, and ordered a new election.
After scrutinizing competing claims about absentee ballots, rejected ballots, and election irregularities, the judge, Richard T. Tucker, ruled that one absentee ballot that was initially discarded can be counted for Geraldo Alicea, the Democratic incumbent. That finding puts Alicea into an exact tie with his Republican challenger, Peter Durant.
Durant was initially declared the winner of the Nov. 2 election, with 6,587 votes to 6,586 for Alicea.
But Tucker ruled that the disputed absentee vote for Alicea – which had been rejected and placed in an envelope with spoiled ballots because the voter marked two choices for governor – should have been added to Alicea’s tally. The judge said Alicea and Durant both won exactly 6,587 votes in the election, and a new election must be held.
Alicea, second-term representative from Charlton, said today he was “very pleased” with the ruling and planned to begin voting as a “holdover” member of the House until a new election is scheduled. Even though he has not been sworn in, he said he believes the state Constitution allows him to remain in his seat.
Durant, who is currently a selectman from Spencer, could not be reached. But his lawyer, Frank L. McNamara, Jr., said he had not yet discussed an appeal with his client.
“I’m disappointed because I wanted Peter to win, but the result is not unexpected given the evidence,” McNamara said. After hearing testimony from a local election official who handled the disputed absentee ballot, “It was pretty clear that that was going to be counted as a vote for Alicea, thus tying the vote,” McNamara added. “But it was a fight worth fighting.”
"There were over 13,500 votes cast, and it’s a virtual statistical dead heat," McNamara said. "The probabilities of that are very small, and it shows the importance of every vote."
The judge did not set a date for the new election or say whether it would be open to new candidates, or simply be a runoff between Alicea and Durant.
State Representative Michael T. Moran, a Boston Democrat who chairs the Legislature’s Election Laws Committee, said the judge’s ruling would now be reviewed by a special House committee of two Democrats and one Republican.
The committee will make a recommendation about next steps to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, he said. “The strongest option is to have a reelection,” Moran said. “But you have to look at everything.”
“It’s fair to say this is extremely, extremely rare and it poses a whole set of different issues and problems,” Moran said. “I believe, at the end of the day, we will find some resolution that I hope everyone can agree with.”
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s top elections official, said he may recommend to the House that a new election be scheduled for May. He said he did not know of any precedent that would allow a runoff, suggesting that wide-open race would be held.
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