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Mass. GOP moves to invalidate caucus ballots

Ron Paul backers cry foul

Scott Audette/Reuters

Supporters of Ron Paul fear losing influence over the party platform at the Republican convention this summer in Tampa.

A month after Mitt Romney’s loyalists were trounced by supporters of Ron Paul in the former governor’s home state caucuses, the Massachusetts Republican Party is trying to invalidate some ballots.

The move, some say, could oust Paul backers and send more Romney representatives to the GOP nominating convention in Tampa in August. It has infuriated rank-and-file Republicans who accuse establishment insiders of bending the rules to their own benefit.

“Just because you didn’t like the outcome of an election doesn’t mean you overturn it because you have the power to,’’ said a state committeeman, Stephen Zykofsky.

Much of the ire is directed at a challenge in the Fifth Congressional District - where Romney lives and where all six of his selected delegates and alternates lost. A member of Romney’s slate contends the results should be thrown out because the caucus chairman failed to get all the participants to sign in.

A 14-member GOP committee is expected to consider whether the results should be counted this week.

Inflaming the situation is Republicans’ decision not to count provisional ballots in any district. The provisional ballots are those cast by voters whose registration could not be confirmed on April 28, the day of the caucuses. Paul supporters say it is a maneuver by the party to diminish their influence.

Even if the factors change the makeup of the delegation that Massachusetts sends to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, they will not affect the Republican nomination for president. Based on Romney’s strong primary win in Massachusetts, the delegates to the convention are all committed to vote for him, and Paul has dropped out of contention. But it could weaken the voice of Paul supporters, who had hoped to influence the party platform.

Ed McGrath, a Romney-backed nominee who lost in the Fifth District, is chairman of the committee that will take up the ballot challenge on Tuesday. He said last week the challenge in his district had nothing to do with manipulating the outcome, and, in an attempt to dispel that perception, he withdrew from consideration as a delegate.

“I don’t think it’s an effort to get the Romney slate back on,’’ he said. “It certainly isn’t for me.’’

The delegates for the national convention were elected in caucuses held in each of the state’s congressional districts. Romney advertised his support for a slate of 54 delegates - three delegates and three alternates in each of the nine congressional districts. But Romney’s slate was overwhelmed by Paul supporters, who have been posting similarly strong showings in other states.

In the Sixth Congressional District, the only one of Romney’s six nominees to prevail was state Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr, who won by just one vote. The losers included state House minority leader Bradley H. Jones Jr.; Kerry Healey, the former lieutenant governor; Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr. of Essex County; and Republicans’ most recent nominee for governor, Charles D. Baker.

But the Massachusetts Republican Party has still not confirmed the results of the caucuses. A spokesman, Tim Buckley, previously told the Globe that the votes would not be official until the party’s allocation committee certified them and that the tallies remained uncertain because some voters’ eligibility could not be confirmed. Neither Buckley nor the party’s lawyer, Vincent DeVito, could be reached for comment.

To participate in the caucuses, voters had to be registered as Republicans before Feb. 15. Those whose names did not appear on registration lists were allowed to cast provisional ballots and told their votes would be counted if they were proven eligible and if the election was narrow enough to make a difference.

But last week, the party’s counsel began telling Republicans who were questioning the results that the provisional ballots would not be counted and that the rules had never allowed provisional ballots to be cast in the first place.

That had some Republicans fuming: Why did the party print, distribute, and collect provisional ballots only to later tell voters who cast them that they were invalid? Heather Mellem, a 37-year-old Paul supporter from South Boston who lost in last month’s caucuses, said the outcome might have been different if provisional ballots were counted.

“Now it’s time for Republicans to come together, and if they’re trying to unify the party, not counting the ballots is certainly not the way to do that,’’ Mellem said. “They’re going to only offend Ron Paul supporters and make them feel more excluded.’’

She and others objected to the notion that decisions affecting the results are being made by Republican leaders with interests in the outcome. DeVito, the party’s lawyer, is one of the Romney-backed delegates who won.

Brad Wyatt, a Paul supporter and confirmed delegate, said there is a simple remedy: open the provisional ballots and count the votes that are valid.

He acknowledged Paul’s supporters hope to influence the party platform at the convention and to press for a prime-time speech by Paul but said, “We are all committed to voting for Mitt Romney when we get down there. We’re not causing any trouble.’’

“Many of these guys are really excited about the Republican party,’’ Wyatt said. “But the Mass GOP is really walking a thin line here. They’re going to really upset a lot of people.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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