Secretary of State William F. Galvin said he will oversee an upcoming election in Everett, specifically the use of absentee ballots, after a federal investigation found that a former state representative rigged ballots in three recent elections.
Galvin’s announcement was made Friday as Stephen W. Smith, who resigned his seat after he was implicated, pleaded guilty in federal court to two civil rights violations of deprivation of rights under the color of law, for infringing on others’ voting rights.
The charges carry a penalty of up to two years in prison, though Smith would serve six months and face a yet-to-be-determined fine under an agreement he reached with prosecutors. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 5.
No one else has been charged, though prosecutors said that an investigation is ongoing and that Smith, 57, had worked with at least one other government employee to carry out his scheme. Officials would not identify any others.
In court, Smith did not speak except to declare sternly, “I alone accept full responsibility.” He has represented the 28th Middlesex House District covering Everett and Malden since 2007.
Galvin said in an interview Friday that he has reached out to prosecutors to learn more about the investigation, including who was involved, to preserve the integrity of an upcoming election to replace Smith. The secretary said he is awaiting more information and has conducted his own review and that it does not appear that anyone from Everett’s Elections Department participated in the scheme.
Still, Galvin said he will take steps to monitor the election and possibly a fall municipal election, as well, to make sure there are no improprieties.
“We’re going to be overseeing every aspect of this going forward to make sure the absentee balloting going on is fully compliant with state law,” he said. “We are very concerned about the process over there.”
Prosecutors said Friday that, in the primary and general elections in 2009 and in a general election in 2010, Smith orchestrated a scheme to have absentee ballots sent to ineligible voters and to voters who did not expect them.
In some cases, prosecutors said ineligible voters filled out the ballot and returned them. In other cases, the ballots sent to unaware voters were intercepted and unlawfully filled out on their behalf.
Prosecutors would not say exactly how many people participated in the scheme or why no one else has been charged.
In court, Assistant US Attorney Eugenia M. Carris said only that the scheme “deprived qualified voters . . . by diluting the valid ballots that were cast.”
Smith was ordered released on $10,000 unsecured bond until his sentencing hearing.
Galvin said Friday that investigators were aware that an unusually high number of absentee ballots have been cast in Everett, but investigators in the past found no wrongdoing. He said his office has investigated questionable uses of absentee ballots before, citing an investigation that led to criminal charges against two people in East Longmeadow last year for election improprieties.
Galvin said a proper balance must be struck between encouraging people to vote, even if that means by absentee ballot, and allowing candidates to take advantage of the process.
Galvin said he encourages anyone who needs to use an absentee ballot in the upcoming Everett elections to do so. A primary election is March 5 and a general election is April 2.
But he also said that officials from his staff will review absentee ballot applications to make sure they comply with state law.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.