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Kevin Cullen

Mailing in their vote

Besides consistently having one of the best high school football teams in the state, Everett is home to the biggest collection of globe-trotting, religiously fervent invalids in the Commonwealth.

How else to explain the outrageously large number of absentee ballots in Everett?

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According to state law, you’re supposed to take an absentee ballot for one of three reasons: you’re not going to be in town, you have a physical disability, or you have a religious reason for not going to the polls.

But some have applied imaginative elasticity to this in Everett, where they pass out absentee ballots like football cards.

In the Democratic primary for the state Senate seat in the Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex district two weeks ago, 744 people in Everett voted by absentee ballot, or about 20 percent of the total. In the other cities and towns in the district, absentee ballots accounted for about 5 percent of the total.

Presumably a large number of those Everett ballots went to the eventual winner, and Everett homeboy, Senator Sal DiDomenico, who squeaked in by just 178 votes. DiDomenico said he knew of no campaign to pad the number of absentee ballots, and if there was one, he wasn’t part of it.

This is not the first time the suspiciously high number of absentee ballots in Everett has left people scratching their heads.

“It’s crazy,” said Fred Foresteire, the Everett school superintendent. “There’s no way that percentage makes any sense. It needs to be investigated.”

The Everett School Committee sent a formal complaint to Secretary of State William Galvin last year after a high number of absentee ballots was cast.

Galvin said it’s unclear whether absentee ballots are demonstrably higher in Everett than elsewhere; he said the state does not keep those statistics. He said there’s nothing illegal about politicians helping voters obtain absentee ballots; but it’s illegal for pols to get involved in the delivery of them to the clerk’s office for counting.

If candidates believe that an absentee voter does not fit any of the three eligible categories, Galvin said, they must challenge those ballots.

Tim Flaherty, who narrowly lost, said the system puts an unrealistic burden on candidates to police abuses. He says the absentee system was openly abused in Everett.

Case in point: State Representative Stat Smith, who voted by absentee ballot even though he was on the ballot himself and was in Everett on primary day.

Smith, who endorsed DiDomenico, says he didn’t do anything wrong. He said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be in town, or be able to get to the polls.

“I had intended to spend the whole day on my knees in Immaculate Conception Church, praying for victory, but after kneeling for 10 minutes I realized I couldn’t do it,” he said.

Absentee balloting is a family affair at the Smith house. Six absentee ballots from him and his relatives were mailed from his Clarence Street address. There were more than a dozen from a hostel on Church Street that Smith owns. Smith insists he does everything by the book.

Michael Matarazzo, Everett city clerk, said Smith is not the only politician who actively solicits absentee ballots. He said it’s been a feature of Everett politics for the last few election cycles. But he said his office doesn’t have the resources to check whether those who take absentee ballots are eligible. It’s basically an honor system.

Two words could get to the bottom of this: grand jury.

Gerry Leone, the Middlesex district attorney, and Carmen Ortiz, the US attorney, can draw lots to see who gets to convene one.

Something smells funny in Everett. And it ain’t those LNG storage tanks.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.
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