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Mass. House declares Democrat winner in 7-vote race; a second contest remains under review

Margaret Scarsdale, a Pepperell Democrat, greets voters in Lunenburg during the summer.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts House on Tuesday declared Democrat Margaret Scarsdale the winner in a razor-thin race for state representative, accepting the recommendation of a special legislative committee after it found that while local election officials made “missteps,” they did not impact the final seven-vote margin.

Scarsdale is scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday, exactly two weeks after nearly every representative-elect had taken the oath of office, according to a House aide. The Pepperell Democrat — who defeated Republican Andrew Shepherd in a race that had gone to a recount — will officially fill the First Middlesex seat that until last year had been held for nearly four decades by the GOP.


The three-person committee’s report, issued late Tuesday, does not completely settle the chamber’s membership, however. It is still reviewing another race in the Second Essex District, where legislative leaders had also delayed the swearing-in of Kristin Kassner, a Hamilton Democrat who, after a recount, emerged by a single vote over the Republican incumbent, Lenny Mirra.

Mirra had challenged his one-vote loss in court, and had asked a judge to review at least two ballots — both of which Mirra said elections workers had determined to be cast for him but were later ruled as “blank” ballots. A Superior Court judge later dismissed the suit, and an appellate court judge rejected Mirra’s request for an injunction.

Mirra told the special committee in testimony on Friday that he does not believe there was any “massive fraud” in his election, but charged there was “human error,” including, he contended, when more than a dozen ballots were “found and counted” during the recount without explanation.

It’s unclear when the committee could issue a report on that race. A committee aide said Tuesday that it remains “under advisement.”

House Speaker Ron Mariano’s decision not to immediately seat Scarsdale and Kassner had sparked fissures in the state Democratic Party, where some activists fretted that the Quincy Democrat was feeding into election denialism. One local Democratic group went as far as to call the speaker’s decision a “blow to democracy.”


In the First Middlesex race, the special legislative committee said there were “minor missteps” by local officials, including in one community, where incorrect ballots were sent to some voters. In another, it said it “appears possible” that 50 test ballots were inadvertently included during the recount with actual ballots cast, while in another town, uncast ballots were apparently included in the tally of blank ballots as a “simple way of accounting for those uncast ballots.”

Shepherd, like Mirra, did not contend there was fraud in his race, saying it “wasn’t ‘stolen’ — it’s just excruciatingly close.” But the committee concluded that the Townsend Republican “failed to provide any corroborating evidence to support his claims that the irregularities that occurred . . . caused harm beyond pure speculation.”

“While these missteps had no impact on the integrity or the final outcome of [this] election, similar missteps in the future, if occurring on a larger scale, could affect future elections,” according to the report issued by Representative Michael Day, a Stoneham Democrat; Representative Daniel Ryan, a Charlestown Democrat; and House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, North Reading Republican.

The problems, the report said, “highlight the need for continued close review of current regulations, training, policies and practices of elections in the Commonwealth.”


Shepherd said on Tuesday he would drop a still-pending court challenge in the wake of the committee’s decision, and that he had called Scarsdale to congratulate her.

“Our campaign is disappointed by the decision of the special house committee, but we are [grateful] the committee was willing to listen as we presented significant errors that came about during this election cycle,” he said in a statement.

Scarsdale said in a statement that she was grateful for the committee’s “expeditious review and their attention to this critical process.”

“I am eager and ready to get down to business serving the hard-working people of the First Middlesex District,” she said.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.