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Ballot Questions May Face Legal Challenges

By Sewell Chan

A team of lawyers will decide this week whether to challenge the outcome of last Tuesday's vote on the state ballot questions, following reports of irregularities in the presentation of the nine initiatives.

"It certainly looks as if there were widespread violations of the election laws and the state constitution," said David A. Grossman, a member of the independent legal team. Attorneys dissatisfied with the outcome of the vote formed the working group earlier this week.

The Boston Herald reported Monday that voters in some precincts were not given summaries of the ballot questions prepared by the state attorney general--the only summaries that can legally be provided--and that other voters were given illegal summaries.

And Rep. John McDonough, co-chair of the state House of Representatives' Committee on Election Laws, told The Boston Globe Tuesday that "mass confusion" resulted from voter ignorance of the ballot questions.

The state constitution requires that a summary of ballot questions be printed on the slates inside voting booths.

But a law passed in September by the state legislature permitted Secretary of State Michael J. Connolly to provide separate paper summaries of the ballot questions, which were too lengthy to fit on the slates.

Grossman said the working group could challenge the outcome on two grounds.

"We think the law that said [the summaries] didn't have to go on the machines is unconstitutional," said Grossman, who is counsel to Greater Boston Legal Services, which is working pro bono. "And even if the law was constitutional, it wasn't followed," he added, because of the irregularities. Grossman said some wards in Brookline had no summaries available, and cited a Herald report of a Dorchester voter who was given a Herald editorial in place of the legal summary of the questions.

Grossman said the team will decide later this week whether to file suit. Some attorneys said a suit is likely. "It looks like we're moving in that direction," said Jeff Purcell, a member of the legal team.

"Right now we're collecting affidavits to find out exactly what went on," said Pamela A. Bender, executive director of the pro-rent control Massachusetts Tenants Organization.

"We're in an information-gathering mode right now."

Question 9, which was passed by state voters by a slim margin of 51 to 49 percent, repealed rent control, effective January 1.

Grossman said a suit may be necessary if the state refuses to look into the complaints.

"If the secretary of state and attorney general would both look into it, there would be no need to file a lawsuit," he said.

Connolly's office defended the voting procedure yesterday. "We feel the validity of the results will stand," said Robert F. Moriarty, spokesperson for Connolly.

He said an extensive survey of town and city clerks had found almost no irregularities.

"There's been a handful of problems," Moriarty admitted. "Those problems are more related to confusion--people coming in and realizing that the state ballot summaries would not be on the ballot [in the voting booths]."

"When you look at 2.1 million people voting and then a dozen people complaining, I think that's a small number," he added.

The attorney general's office has the authority to begin its own investigation into the voting procedure.

But John R. Lamontagne, a spokesperson for Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger '64, said the office has no current plans to do so. "At this point we're not planning on anything," Lamontagne said. "We're going to wait to see what Connolly's office is going to do.

Grossman said the team will decide later this week whether to file suit. Some attorneys said a suit is likely. "It looks like we're moving in that direction," said Jeff Purcell, a member of the legal team.

"Right now we're collecting affidavits to find out exactly what went on," said Pamela A. Bender, executive director of the pro-rent control Massachusetts Tenants Organization.

"We're in an information-gathering mode right now."

Question 9, which was passed by state voters by a slim margin of 51 to 49 percent, repealed rent control, effective January 1.

Grossman said a suit may be necessary if the state refuses to look into the complaints.

"If the secretary of state and attorney general would both look into it, there would be no need to file a lawsuit," he said.

Connolly's office defended the voting procedure yesterday. "We feel the validity of the results will stand," said Robert F. Moriarty, spokesperson for Connolly.

He said an extensive survey of town and city clerks had found almost no irregularities.

"There's been a handful of problems," Moriarty admitted. "Those problems are more related to confusion--people coming in and realizing that the state ballot summaries would not be on the ballot [in the voting booths]."

"When you look at 2.1 million people voting and then a dozen people complaining, I think that's a small number," he added.

The attorney general's office has the authority to begin its own investigation into the voting procedure.

But John R. Lamontagne, a spokesperson for Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger '64, said the office has no current plans to do so. "At this point we're not planning on anything," Lamontagne said. "We're going to wait to see what Connolly's office is going to do.

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