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Law Students Allege Local Poll Violations

By Daniel J. Hemel, Crimson Staff Writer

Boston Democrat Marty Walz, who easily won a local race for state representative yesterday, flagrantly violated Massachusetts election law by campaigning just steps away from a Copley Square polling station, according to Harvard Law School (HLS) students who volunteered as voting monitors.

Walz ignored warnings from election watchers and police officers, who told the candidate that state law prohibits campaigning within 150 feet of a polling station, student volunteers said.

According to students, Walz told monitors: “You’re obviously new to the area and you obviously don’t understand the way we do things here.”

Supporters of Walz’s rival, Republican Richard L. Babson, also illegally campaigned near the polling station, volunteer Matthew E. Swanson ’02 said.

Walz will represent the 8th Suffolk District, which includes Cambridgeport and MIT, as well as the Boston neighborhoods of Back Bay, Beacon Hill and West End.

At first, Walz told the volunteers that they “had no authority,” said Swanson, a second-year HLS student.

After election monitors from Harvard brought Boston police officers to the scene, Walz still refused to budge, Swanson said.

Swanson was one of 100 Harvard students dispatched to local polling stations by Just Democracy, a voting rights group founded earlier this year by two current HLS students.

William D. Rahm, a joint JD/MBA student who is president of Just Democracy’s Harvard chapter, said he was surprised that Walz “so brazenly flouted the law in her campaigning for a legal position.”

Walz, a former attorney and longtime community activist, earned a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000.

Her opponent Babson, a millionaire economist, has made headlines for bucking the Republican Party line on gay marriage. Babson, who is himself openly gay, has vigorously defended same sex couples’ right to wed.

Walz and Babson did not return repeated requests for comment last night.

SCATTERED VIOLATIONS

While Harvard volunteers fanned out to nearby polling stations, Just Democracy mobilized nearly 2,000 volunteers from law schools nationwide to staff polling stations, monitor election abuses and assist voters.

Phones rang off the hook at Just Democracy’s office on the first floor of Gannet House yesterday afternoon, as volunteers in more than two dozen states reported scattered election problems.

“At this point, the headline news is lots of littles and no bigs,” co-founder Rebecca O’Brien said late yesterday afternoon—moments before she dashed off to a TV studio for an appearance on PBS’ NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Early reports from the group’s Ohio chapter—which sent 150 volunteers to election sites in Columbus—indicated that polling stations were overwhelmed by massive voter turnout.

Columbus voters stood in line for as long as four-and-a-half hours, said Sarah Kroll-Rosenbaum, a third-year student at New York Law School who is Just Democracy’s deputy director for partnerships and programs.

Experts had speculated that Republican Party activists might disrupt balloting in Ohio by challenging the credentials of newly registered voters in heavily Democratic neighborhoods.

But O’Brien said early reports from the Ohio volunteers signaled that the delays came in precincts where the GOP did not raise challenges.

Despite isolated incidents in other battleground areas—including volunteers’ reports of a man using a bullhorn to intimidate voters in Philadelphia—O’Brien said yesterday’s balloting appeared to be running more smoothly than in the hotly contested 2000 race.

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Rahm said that Just Democracy’s local undergraduate and law student volunteers all underwent at least three hours of election law training.

He said the group dispatched fluent Mandarin speakers to Boston’s Chinatown, sent Portuguese speakers to assist East Cambridge’s Brazilian community and stationed Spanish- and French-speaking volunteers in North Cambridge, home to many Latino and Haitian immigrants.

Local residents, absent from the polls for so many years that they had been re-classified as “inactive voters,” turned out yesterday. To get back on the rolls, they had to present photo IDs, government paychecks or utility bills. Rahm said Just Democracy volunteers helped these voters manage the process to ensure they could cast ballots.

“I didn’t see any sites where people were sent home because they lacked ID,” Rahm said.

But Megan E. Camm ’07, a Dunster government concentrator, was turned away when she tried to vote at Quincy House.

Camm used an online link from thefacebook.com to register in Massachusetts. She brought a print-out to the polls confirming her registration, but a poll worker in Quincy told Camm she could not vote because she did not have the required Mass. ID number.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 3 million voters didn’t cast ballots in 2000 because of confusion about their registration.

Gabriel M. Kuris, a first-year HLS student, spent seven hours volunteering at a Central Square polling station—and landed a seven-second segment on Sweden’s TV4.

“I have no idea why Swedish television came to this polling place,” Kuris said.

The Central Square station “was not representative of the horrors of American balloting they hoped to represent,” Kuris said. “I didn’t see one problem.”

—Brendan R. Linn contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.

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