State Representative Lenny Mirra is petitioning a court to review and overturn his one-vote loss to a Democratic challenger in November’s election, charging officials in three towns “made several critical errors” before and during a recount that flipped the North Shore seat.
Democrat Kristin Kassner, a first-time candidate, emerged as the winner by the slimmest of margins over Mirra, a five-term Republican incumbent, after local clerks recounted ballots in the Second Essex district earlier this month.
In a 15-page complaint filed Wednesday in Essex Superior Court, Mirra asked a judge to order a review of ballots from Georgetown, Ipswich, and Rowley. In the complaint, Mirra argued that a “correction” of several mistakes would change the outcome to show he won or “in the alternative (and in the very least), that the Election resulted in a tie and a special election is required.”
Mirra, of Georgetown, also asked that the court order that he remain in the seat while his challenge is pending.
“We’re very lucky to have dedicated public servants administering our elections, and in the closest of races, we are lucky to have the separation of powers and judicial review that can properly examine — with fresh eyes — whether the recount process truly determined the will of the voters,” Mirra said in a statement Thursday. A review of several ballots across the three towns, he said, “will show that our campaign was victorious in the election.”
Mirra had held a 10-vote advantage before Secretary of State William F. Galvin ordered a recount in the race. Afterward, Kassner emerged with 11,763 votes to Mirra’s 11,762 among more than 24,000 ballots cast in the race.
Mirra’s complaint targets a handful of ballots across the towns, including a single ballot in Georgetown that was counted as “blank” but, he said, included a mark in the oval next to Mirra’s name.
In Ipswich, a voter filled in the oval for Mirra “after mistakenly writing in Donald Trump” as a write-in candidate, as the voter did for every other race where no Republican candidate was listed, according to Mirra’s complaint. The ballot was initially counted for Mirra, but was later ruled “blank” after a challenge by Kassner’s attorney.
On another ballot, he said, the voter marked the oval next to Mirra but it was later ruled to be a so-called overvote because the mark “extended ever-so-slightly” into the oval next to Kassner, according to the complaint.
Five other mail-in votes in Rowley that didn’t include envelopes were initially considered to be “spoiled,” but were later added to the recount. All five were votes for Kassner, Mirra said. The Republican is also challenging whether an overseas ballot for Kassner should be counted because it did not include a voter affidavit.
His complaint also charged that 13 extra ballots were “found and counted” during the recount without explanation; that he was denied the chance to inspect mail-in ballot envelopes in Rowley; and that officials in Ipswich counted 14 mail-in envelopes that he claims had signatures that “drastically diverged from the corresponding voter registration cards.”
Town clerks and registrars “made several critical errors of law to the detriment of . . . Mirra and the registered voters that participated in the election,” according to Mirra’s complaint. He is represented by Michael J. Sullivan, a former US attorney and one-time Republican candidate for US Senate.
Kassner, in a statement Thursday, thanked the town clerks and elections officials for their work “to ensure democracy works.”
“This is another chapter of democracy playing itself out,” Kassner said of the challenge. The Hamilton Democrat said she had attended the House’s new legislator training last week, and is prepared to fill the office. “I am looking forward to getting to work.”
Gerry McDonough, an attorney who represented Kassner during the recount, said he is “pretty confident” election officials made the right judgment call on each of the ballots. “It’s a really high hurdle for anyone to challenge an election like this,” he said.
McDonough said it was unclear whether Kassner would directly intervene in the lawsuit, though he indicated he disagrees Mirra should continue to hold the seat should his legal challenge stretch past Jan. 4, when the new legislative class is sworn in.
When the Legislature reshaped its electoral map during the redistricting process last year, it overhauled the district, slicing off all or parts of five communities and merging Mirra’s hometown and Newbury with Ipswich, Rowley, Hamilton, and a part of Topsfield. Kassner, McDonough said, has also been certified as the race’s winner.
“To have him step in and start to represent [these towns now] would be a mistake,” McDonough said. “It’s an inappropriate step to take.”
The thin margin in the Second Essex is not without precedent. In 2010, Republican Peter Durant was initially declared the winner for a state representative seat in Central Massachusetts, where he emerged by one vote — 6,587 votes to 6,586 — over Geraldo Alicea, the Democratic incumbent.
But after scrutinizing claims about absentee ballots, rejected ballots, and election irregularities, a judge ruled that one absentee ballot that was initially discarded could be counted for Alicea, putting them into an exact tie.
The judge ordered a new election, which Durant won by 55 votes.
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.