State House News

After Review, House To Swear In Scarsdale

Source: State House News Service
Author: Chris Lisinski

Panel: Election “Missteps Had No Impact On The Integrity Or The Final Outcome”

A special House committee concluded with bipartisan support that Margaret Scarsdale of Pepperell should be seated as the winner of a narrowly contested recount in the First Middlesex District, rejecting her Republican opponent’s contention that irregularities left the result in doubt.

After convening a hearing Friday to examine the challenge filed by Townsend Republican Andrew Shepherd, the three-member panel on Tuesday evening concluded there was not enough evidence to warrant tossing out the certified election results that gave Scarsdale a seven-vote win. The committee left open its review of a contested recount in another district.

The full House then adopted the committee’s report in part on an unrecorded voice vote at 7:30 p.m., clearing the way for Scarsdale to be inaugurated for the two-year lawmaking term that began Jan. 4.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Ron Mariano told the News Service that Scarsdale will be sworn in Wednesday morning in Gov. Maura Healey’s office alongside Reps.-elect Erika Uyterhoeven and Patricia Haddad, who were absent on Jan. 4, the original inauguration day.

Democrat Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham, Democrat Rep. Daniel Ryan of Charlestown and House Minority Leader Brad Jones all signed the report indicating their support for naming Scarsdale, a Democrat, the winner.

They wrote that Shepherd “failed to provide any corroborating evidence to support his claims that the irregularities that occurred in Pepperell, Groton, Dunstable and Lunenburg caused harm beyond pure speculation.”

“He has not met his burden of proof in this matter,” the lawmakers said.

Shepherd said Tuesday evening that he called Scarsdale to congratulate her and wish her well “as her success will be our district’s success.”

“Our committee is disappointed by the decision of the committee, but we are grateful the committee was willing to listen as we presented significant errors that came about during this election cycle,” he said in a statement. “We hope these issues raised about the process will lead to the strengthening of our voting system. I’m excited to continue my advocacy in our community and work with our new State Representative Margaret Scarsdale.”

In a statement, Scarsdale said she is “deeply grateful to Speaker Mariano for his steady leadership and to the committee members and their staff for their expeditious review and their attention to this critical process.”

“I am eager and ready to get down to business serving the hard-working people of the First Middlesex District,” she said. “I am excited to continue to advocate for our communities as a seated member of the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to deliver real results for my district this session.”

Although they agreed that the issues Shepherd highlighted do not warrant nullifying the election results, lawmakers said the debate revealed there may be flaws in the state’s voting systems — which now feature widespread mail-in voting and expanded early voting following recent reforms — that need attention.

“The evidence presented to the Special Committee suggests that in one community there may have been instances where incorrect ballots were sent to qualified voters. In another community, it appears possible that fifty test ballots were inadvertently included during the recount with actual ballots cast,” the panel wrote. “In another community, it appears uncast ballots were included in the blanks tally as a simple way of accounting for those uncast ballots. While these missteps had no impact on the integrity or the final outcome of the election, similar missteps in the future, if occurring on a larger scale, could affect future elections.”

“In each of the instances outlined, the ballots in question do not impact the integrity or the outcome of the election in the First Middlesex District,” they added. “These missteps, while benign in the election for State Representative in the First Middlesex District, do highlight the need for continued close review of current regulations, training, policies and practices of elections in the Commonwealth.”

The special committee has not yet reached a decision on how to handle the other contested recount, where Democrat Kristin Kassner of Hamilton emerged with a one-vote win over Republican Rep. Lenny Mirra of Georgetown after trailing by 10 votes in the original certified results.

Mariano announced the night before the inauguration that the House would “temporarily delay” swearing in Kassner and Scarsdale and task a special committee with reviewing the legal challenges Mirra and Shepherd had filed.

The panel hosted all four candidates for a pair of hearings on Friday, where both Republicans argued that “human error” created substantial problems in the recounts and both Democrats defended the outcomes.

Shepherd and his attorney, former state representative and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, alleged that local clerks made several missteps such as failing to reject mail-in ballots where envelope signatures did not match registration cards and mailing ballots listing the wrong state representative race to some First Middlesex District voters.

The first-time Republican candidate from Townsend told lawmakers he did not believe “there were any conspiracies nor nefarious intent.”

“I simply believe that there was human error under the smallest of margins that has materially affected the outcome of this race,” he said on Friday.

The north central Massachusetts where Scarsdale won has been without representation in the House for nearly a year following the departure of former Republican Rep. Sheila Harrington, who resigned to take a job in the judicial branch.

Mirra continues to represent the Second Essex District on a holdover basis, and Kassner remains in limbo. The Governor’s Council certified both recounts on Dec. 14, but courts have ruled that the House itself has final jurisdiction over seating new members.