Worcester City Clerk MIA After Election Rules Flap
Friday, November 02, 2012
Following allegations of improper conduct at polling locations during September's state primary election, the City's Election Commissioners developed a list of recommendations for poll observers during the general election, which included requiring them to sign in at polling stations, provide identification and wear badges. The Board requested that they be presented to the Secretary of State's office to determine if they could be adopted locally under state laws.
Conflicting Rules for Observers
At a Board of Election Commissioners meeting Monday night, Rushford told officials that the Secretary of State's office had issued new rules for election observers requiring them to show photo identification, wear badges identifying themselves as poll observers, and prohibiting the taking of photos or videos within polling locations.
Rushford claimed that the new rules were announced during a training session held by the Secretary of State's office in Worcester last week and that they would apply statewide.
However, Michelle Tassinari, director and legal counsel for the Secretary of State's Elections Division, issued a letter to Worcester Election Commissioners the following day refuting all of Rushford's statements after they appeared in a newspaper article.
Tassinari wrote that there is no requirement for observers to show photo identification or wear a badge, and that pictures and video, but no audio, are allowed within polling places but with certain conditions to preserve the secrecy of ballots and not intimidate voters.
She added that there has been no new adoption of rules or regulations regarding election observers this year, and that the information regarding such procedures is distributed to each municipality prior to elections and has been in place for several years.
In addition, no local training session was held. Representatives from the Secretary of State's office did hold an informational meeting in Worcester last week for groups and organizations interested in the procedures for observing next week's election. Tassinari said that Rushford was invited to attend, but he was not present.
No Response from Clerk
"While we reached out to Mr. Rushford two weeks ago to offer our assistance with training the City's poll workers, including matters relating to election day procedures and observers at the polls, he declined," Tassinari wrote.
"Further, we requested that he provide us with his training materials he intended to sue for the City's poll workers, but we received no response to the several requests we made for these materials."
Due to the discrepancies between Rushford's statements and state rules and regulations, the Secretary of State's office directed the Election Commission to take immediate corrective action if such policies had been instituted and provide a statement detailing the steps taken to put local election procedures in line with applicable state laws, practices and procedures.
How or why Rushford came to present such contradictory information regarding the rules for election observers remains unclear as he could not be reached on several attempts for comment.
A meeting of the Board of Election Commissioners has been scheduled for 6:00p.m. Friday in City Hall to address the inconsistencies.
"We need a direct explanation from the Clerk as to why this confusion resulted, and anything less is specualation on our part," said City Councilor Konnie Lukes.
"Our real goal here is to prevent any more miscommuncation and have an election that is going to be free from controversy."
While additional deliberation and research will be needed to determine how the error occurred, Lukes said, the more important question right now is how to correct it before Election Day.
"I'm very disappointed in the Clerk's behavior," said Chris Pinto of the Worcester Republican City Committee.
"I do have confidence that if the Election Commission does their job and directly interacts with the Secretary of State themselves, things will improve."
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