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Wilkerson races to finish line

But write-in process leaves some stumped

State Senator Dianne Wilkerson dashed through her district yesterday, hugging voters and handing out fliers listing her accomplishments in a last-ditch effort to save her seat from three lesser-known challengers who focused on her alleged transgressions.

Wilkerson failed to garner the 300 signatures needed to put her name on the ballot, forcing a write-in campaign that has left her more vulnerable than she has ever been in her 13 years in office.

It also left many voters scratching their heads yesterday.

None of the four candidates' names appeared on the primary ballot. Instead, voters had to write in the name and address of their preferred candidate or affix a sticker bearing that information. Then they had to fill in an oval space next to the name.

``It's very tedious," said John Maxfield, 55, of Jamaica Plain, as he walked out of Curtis Hall on South Street after he had cast his ballot. ``I think it's going to leave some people very confused."

Voters chose from among Democrat Sonia Chang-Díaz, a 28-year-old former schoolteacher; Democrat John Kelleher, 62, a former state representative and a Boston police detective; and Samiyah Diaz, who is running as a Republican in the November election.

Diaz decided to run as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary to improve her chances of winning the seat in the heavily Democratic Second Suffolk District, which covers Chinatown, Fenway, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, the South End, Roxbury, and parts of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Dorchester, and Mattapan.

Yesterday, each campaign scrambled to outmaneuver the other.

Wilkerson had pledged to double her typical number of volunteers from 300 to 600 to make sure all the polling places were covered.

In red T-shirts, with Wilkerson's name emblazoned in white, volunteers toted stickers and fliers and called after voters walking to the polls. At many polling places, volunteers for the other candidates stood nearby, holding fistsful of stickers, often rushing after the same voter.

``If they get them first, I always approach [the voter] afterwards and say, you have another choice," said Gary Daffin, a Wilkerson volunteer who stood outside Curtis Hall.

Diaz's campaign opted to put volunteers only at polling places where voter turnout is historically high, said volunteer Dan Winslow, 48, who stood outside Joseph P. Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, wearing a blue T-shirt bearing Diaz's name in gold.

``We're not blanketing citywide," he said. ``It wouldn't be a good use of our resources."

Kelleher called on old friends, some of whom helped him win his seat in 1972, to stand outside polling places.

``He's a good man," said Linda Hardy, 48, who chased after voters outside Curtis Hall. ``I've known him for years."

During the campaign, Chang-Díaz of Jamaica Plain increased her visibility by frequently visiting the same neighborhoods and leaving multiple voice mails for registered voters in the district, reminding them to vote. ``I think our hard work is paying off," she said yesterday as she stood outside Manning School talking to voters.

All three challengers made a point of Wilkerson's failure to pay federal income taxes, as well as campaign donations and expenses that are currently being investigated by the state attorney general's office. Wilkerson has apologized for any past actions that hurt her standing with them and has said the courts will decide the pending allegations.

The candidates' efforts could not offset some glitches caused by the stickers. One voter complained that hers fell off the ballot after she stuck it on.

``Thank God I had a second one," said Irene Desharnais, 65, a retired schoolteacher who said she voted for Chang-Díaz.

Wilkerson, who stood outside the Boston Public Library yesterday afternoon smiling broadly at passing voters, said she was worried that the voting machines could not handle the stickers. ``We're hearing that the stickers are sticking in the machines," she said.

With election officials forced to count the write-in ballots by hand, results were not expected for at least two hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Some voters were nervous about the hand count and recalled the chaos of the 2000 presidential election, when the outcome rested on the Florida recount. ``This isn't obviously that big a deal," said Chrissie Gagnier, 22, of Jamaica Plain. ``But any small problem . . . will affect people's opinion about government in general. They'll be suspicious of politicians and the election. Will my ballot count?"

Yvonne Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

Mass. Primary 2006 - Latest Globe Coverage
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