Some Jamaica Plain citizens were unable to vote in the high-profile Nov. 7 election when three JP polls ran out of ballots, in one case for nearly an hour. It is impossible to know exactly how many voters were disenfranchised.
The Ward 11 Precinct 6 (Brookside) poll at Brookside Community Health Center had no ballots for 50 minutes, according to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. Frustrated citizens left without voting, according to Boston Banner reports.
The Ward 11 Precinct 4 poll (Stonybrook/Egleston Square) at 125 Amory St. ran out of ballots for more than 30 minutes. And the Ward 9 Precinct 7 (Woodbourne/Forest Hills) poll at Woodbourne Apartments ran out for about 15 minutes.
The JP polls were among 38 citywide left without ballots for significant periods. The list doesn’t include polls that almost ran out but were able to scrounge more ballots from the city or from other polls. JP’s Ward 10 Precinct 9 (Hyde Square/Pondside) was one such polling place.
As previously reported, Galvin is taking over supervision of Boston elections through at least 2008 as a result of the blunder. An official agreement with the Boston Election Commission outlining that control and other reforms was signed last month.
The agreement also reveals that the ballot shortage problems were worse and handled differently than originally described by city officials.
The city previously said the shortage came because of an unexplained policy of giving polls enough ballots for only 50 percent of registered voters, then delivering more by van if necessary—even to JP polls that regularly have turnout over 50 percent. High voter turnout and bad traffic led to the shortages. Failing to provide enough ballots for each and every voter was illegal, Galvin said.
But the city didn’t even provide 50 percent of the ballots at many polls, the agreement reveals, delivering various amounts with no apparent rhyme or reason. In JP, the Brookside and Amory Street polls started off with enough ballots for only 44 percent of voters. The Woodbourne poll covered only 46 percent.
Ward 19 Precinct 12 uses the same Woodbourne polling place as 19/7, but is not reported as running out. One reason may be that 19/12 started the day with 100 more ballots than 19/7, covering a higher percentage of its registered voters (50 percent). No reason was given for such variations.
State officials did print more than enough ballots for Boston voters, including ballots in various languages. But the city initially distributed only 37 percent of the ballots. In terms of the citywide per-poll average, that translates to polls starting out prepared for a turnout of about 43 percent. The longest documented shortage lasted one hour and 45 minutes.
Mayor Thomas Menino’s press office initially described Menino as heroically commandeering police cars to deliver ballots to polls that ran short. According to the agreement, that was actually Galvin’s idea, suggested in a phone call to Menino. The mayor learned of the shortages not from his own election officials, but from Galvin’s call, which came almost three hours into the crisis, the agreement says.
The agreement says the city and Galvin will continue to hear evidence and complaints, and take further action if necessary. City Councilor Felix Arroyo has called for a Boston City Council hearing into the shortage, and is also seeking any further allegations.
The ballot shortage was only the latest voting rights disaster for the Boston Election Department.
In the September Democratic primary election, election workers “forgot” to count votes, including some from JP, in the dramatic 2nd Suffolk District state Senate write-in campaign.
Boston elections are already under federal oversight for previous allegations of discrimination against minority and foreign-language-speaking voters. The city initially fought the federal claims, then signed an agreement allowing the oversight and creating various reforms while admitting nothing.
The federal complaints were based on the 2003 city election, where many complaints came from JP. Major trouble spots were the same 125 Amory and Brookside polls that had the ballot shortages this time around. At 125 Amory in 2003, a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member allegedly was given badly incorrect voting instructions, then threatened with arrest when he complained. And the Brookside poll reportedly lacked Spanish-language translators in that election.
The 125 Amory poll has an even longer record of complaints, though officials have not substantiated them. In the 2004 primary election, the poll was the source of many complaints about discrimination against and ignorance of third-party voting.
And in 2002, police had to drag a poll worker for gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney from 125 Amory after she complained, apparently groundlessly, that an on-site translator was improperly promoting Democratic candidates. At that time, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson filed a counter-complaint alleging that the Romney campaign was attempting to intimidate minority voters at the poll.