Galvin: Get US involved in count

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 11/9/2000

s they pored over elections law to determine their course in the Florida recount, aides to Vice President Al Gore sought and received advice from Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin: Call in the US Department of Justice to independently monitor the recount.

Galvin, who has spearheaded the state's move away from punch-card ballots like those used in Florida, said the recount must appear to be nonpartisan, since the state's governor is George W. Bush's brother and the attorney general runs Gore's Florida campaign.

''I've been in touch with [the Gore campaign], and I've advised them they ought to seek federal intervention,'' said Galvin, a Democrat who supports Gore. ''It's not partisan advice I'm giving. This is not just a Florida issue, it's an America issue. It's about all those people who stood in line across the country yesterday.''

Galvin stressed he was not casting aspersions on Governor Jeb Bush or Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and he called the secretary of state there a ''nice person'' who graduated from Harvard Business School.

Still, ''the process here is so important to the country and for future votes of confidence that I think there has to be a guarantee that it's just not local officials playing by local rules,'' he said. ''There has to be a process that guarantees standardized rules for all readings of ballots.''

Galvin, who handled election cases, said the law allows a 10-day wait while all overseas ballots are counted, adding that the Electoral College, which ultimately decides who won, would not meet until mid-December.

''This frenzy about `We have to know' - send the anchors home. Put the soap operas back on,'' Galvin said. ''It's more important for the country to get it right.''

Galvin's expertise dates to a 1982 case in which he represented Paul V. Studenski, a Brockton city councilor who had initially won the election for mayor of Brockton. Initial tallies showed Studenski beat another city councilor, Lawrence V. McCavitt, by 23 votes.

The margin was slim enough to trigger a recount, which Studenski also won, this time by 12 votes.

But a judge ruled that some absentee ballots had been improperly cast and subtracted eight votes from Studenski and added five votes to McCavitt, making him the winner by one vote.

After much legal wrangling - highlighted by the drama of a judge calling voters into the courtroom and publicly asking for whom they had cast ballots - a new election was eventually ordered because the margin of victory was exceeded by the number of erroneous ballots.

Studenski won the second time around. And the precedent of that case has been used in many jurisdictions.

As secretary of state in 1996, Galvin handled another significant voting case: the disputed congressional primary race between William Delahunt and Philip Johnston on the South Shore. Johnston had initially defeated Delahunt, but a review showed that some voters had not completely punctured their punch-card ballots, which registered as blanks when scanned by a machine. Inspectors were able to read the dents and found enough of them in Delahunt's favor to declare him the winner. He won reelection to the US House on Tuesday.

Galvin used this case to persuade Massachusetts communities to adopt more modern techniques for casting and counting ballots, such as optical scanner devices used in standardized tests, and to abandon punch-card ballots, the same antiquated polling system used on Tuesday in Palm Beach. Some voters there - perhaps enough to sway the entire presidential election - claim they were confused by the system and accidentally marked a ballot for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.

Other problems frequently arise when voters are unfamiliar with punch-card ballots or when they can't quite puncture their choice or improperly insert the ballot card into the polling device.

Galvin called the punch-card system ''a fiasco.''

As for Johnston, he's still smarting from the loss.

''I think that the election laws are far too vague and subject to personal interpretation by registrars or judges,'' he said. ''In this case, in which Gore won the national popular vote, it is extremely important that the voters feel that the ultimate winner was decided with total integrity.''

Joanna Weiss of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.