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Judge refuses to delay Lawrence election

A federal judge refused yesterday to order that Lawrence voters be given an extra day to cast ballots in a citywide election that could put the state's first Latino mayor in office.

Instead, US District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton ordered radio announcements in Spanish and English informing inactive voters that they can vote today. The ruling means that today's election will continue as scheduled, but possibly with long lines.

Inactive voters will be allowed to cast ballots today if they provide proof of residency. If they don't have proof, those voters will be allowed to cast provisional ballots after signing an affidavit.

Councilor Marcos Devers, who is trying to unseat Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, and Councilor Carlos Matos had complained that city officials failed to properly notify about 10,000 inactive voters, of about 32,000 total, about their status. They said the city sent a confusing postcard to inactive voters, creating widespread uncertainty within the city's large Latino voting population.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts -- on behalf of the Latino political group ¿Oiste? -- filed the motion in federal court Friday asking for an additional day for voting.

City Council President Patrick J. Blanchette, who attended yesterday's emergency hearing, said the last-minute court filing was politically motivated and a waste of time.

''The judge realized we're in the bottom of the ninth and saw that their squeeze play was invalid," he said.

¿Oiste? president Jose C. Masso said he was disappointed with the ruling, but pleased the city is moving to educate voters of their rights.

Lawrence officials failed to send out a required notice to inactive voters of the status before the Sept. 27 preliminary election, creating confusion at certain polling places. City officials admitted the mistake, but maintained all inactive voters had to do was show proof of residency or cast a provisional ballot. Voters were placed on the inactive list if they didn't return the annual city census or didn't vote in the last election.

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