Galvin cites concern, orders Boston recount

By Steven Wilmsen, Globe Staff, 11/10/2000

ecretary of State William F. Galvin has ordered a recount of all Boston ballots after city election workers discovered at least 30,000 votes were overlooked in 51 precincts scattered around the city.

The problem - blamed on old machines and human error - affected only ballot questions, not candidates for office, authorities said. And the number of votes in question probably won't be large enough to overturn already reported results.

But it could encourage animal-rights activists to demand a statewide recount of ballots cast on Question 3, the proposal to ban greyhound racing that lost by about 65,000 votes.

Though the audit probably won't change the state election, observers say it is another unsettling insight into potential frailties of the American voting apparatus - particularly as the fate of the nation's presidency hangs on ballot problems in Florida.

''I don't want to take any chances with this,'' Galvin said yesterday, adding that his staff has invited all the political committees to observe the recount.

''I want them to see the machines unlocked. I want them to see the counting. I don't want any lingering questions whatsoever,'' he said.

The problem surfaced on Wednesday as Boston election officials double-checked tally sheets filled out by wardens who counted ballots at polling places the night polls closed.

Many of the tally sheets showed no one voted on any ballot questions - even in precincts where thousands showed up.

''That's just nonsensical,'' said Nancy Lo, who heads the city elections department. ''With such a big turnout, it's impossible you're going to have zero.''

Officials believe wardens in at least 51 of the city's 254 precincts misread voting machines, which record votes on mechanical counters similar to odometers.

The counters are arranged in rows and columns, and not all of them are used in a given election. Wardens may have mistakenly tallied votes from inactive counters while overlooking the ones recording the votes, officials said.

City election officials said their estimate of 30,000 uncounted votes is based on the number of tally sheets showing no votes on ballot questions. But the count could go higher if wardens recorded other numbers incorrectly.

Galvin said he has alerted Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly that he is seeking a recount and will ask a judge to approve that order quickly. The recount would likely take place next week.

If the audit shows an even narrower loss for the dog-racing ban, activists could get a statewide recount with 1,000 signatures on a petition. Galvin would have to order the recount if the official tally shows the margin of defeat was less than half of 1 percent of the total number of voters on the question - about 12,000 votes.