As far as political races go, the contest for Republican state committeewoman in Boston’s Second Suffolk district was among the most obscure in Massachusetts. No one appeared on the March 2020 ballot. Three write-in candidates garnered a few dozen votes, according to the city’s initial count.
But more than a year later, the seat is at the center of an unusual — and messy — legal battle that has entangled the City of Boston, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, and the Massachusetts Republican Party over who should hold an otherwise little-noticed party position.
It has also raised questions about how long is too long to settle a political contest — in this case, one subjected to a recount nearly 400 days after the vote.
“We don’t recalculate elections a year after the fact,” said Galvin, the state’s top election official.
Republican State Committee members are elected every four years on the presidential primary ballot — with one man and one woman serving from each state Senate district — and together act as the governing body of the party, including by picking the party chairman every other year.
One of the write-in candidates in the race, Nicaela Chinnaswamy, a Republican activist, filed a lawsuit this month against Galvin and Eneida Tavares, Boston’s election commissioner, asking a judge to name her the winner and a member of the Republican Party’s 80-member state committee.
In March, almost exactly a year to the day of the election, a judge approved Chinnaswamy’s request that the city perform a recount. The city first reported that she had received 25 votes, more than two other write-in candidates got but short of the 50-vote threshold needed to claim victory.
So, 389 days after the March 3, 2020, vote, Boston’s election department reviewed the ballots on a Saturday late last month, ultimately counting more than 100 additional votes than it originally had. The new total pushed Chinnaswamy’s count to 65 votes, ahead of write-in candidates Eleanor C. Greene, who received 50, and Rachel Kemp, who got 37.
By that point, however, the Massachusetts Republican Party — faced with an inconclusive election — had months earlier held an internal caucus in which Greene was selected to fill the seat.
Galvin, the state’s top election official, also said he will not recognize the new results, arguing it could set a “terrible precedent” of allowing unsatisfied candidates to force a rehashing of election results well past the deadlines already included in state law for a recount.
Jim Lyons, the state’s Republican Party chairman, said in a statement last month that the new results are evidence Boston election officials are “incompetent” or beholden to Democrats after they “actively disenfranchised Republican voters.”
Lyons, however, declined to comment Monday on whether he believes Chinnaswamy should hold the seat, citing the ongoing litigation. But according to the lawsuit Chinnaswamy filed last week in Suffolk Superior court, the party, which had at times opposed conducting the recount, has refused to seat her absent the new results being certified.
How election officials missed some of the votes is unclear. But the city’s counting machines, while able to recognize whether a voter selected the option to write in a candidate, don’t have the ability to record who the voter actually selected unless the ballot is hand-counted, according to Chinnaswamy’s lawsuit.
Chinnaswamy has waged her legal fight since shortly after the election. She said she received the initial results just hours before the initial deadline in March 2020 to force a recount — not enough time, she said, to gather the hundreds of signatures needed. And it took her multiple lawsuits, she said, to reach an agreement with Tavares to hold the recount, which the court later approved, according to her complaint.
After the Boston Elections Commission sent the new results to Galvin, Tavares told the secretary of state’s office that the commission does not have the authority to recertify the results — effectively making the process “pointless,” according to Chinnaswamy’s lawsuit. Under state law, local officials have to report the results of the election to Galvin’s within four days of the primary.
“The fact that the court-ordered recount occurred more than four days after the March 3, 2020 Election does not excuse the Commissioner or the Secretary of their duties” under the law, Chinnaswamy’s complaint reads.\
She and “the public have a right for government officials, namely the Commissioner and Secretary, to take the statutory steps to formally acknowledge the winner of an election following a court-ordered recount . . . that changed an election result.”
Tavares and Boston officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday. But Galvin was steadfast on Monday in his opposition to recognizing the recount, saying the episode is “totally motivated by internal politics that I know nothing about and don’t want to.”
“I don’t care who sits on the Republican State Committee,” he said, calling the notion of accepting the new results at this point “absurd.”
“If the party wants to do something [about the recount’s results], they can. But this matter, I think, is a very bad precedent,” he said.
A judge has not yet set any hearing dates in the case.