GOP ballot may face challenge
Governor hopeful fell six votes short
The campaign of a gubernatorial candidate who narrowly missed winning a spot on the Republican primary ballot is threatening to sue the state Republican party and dispute the results of Saturday’s GOP convention in court.
Mark R. Fisher, a Shrewsbury businessman who is aligned with the Tea Party movement, fell about six votes short — out of more than 2,500 cast by convention delegates — from joining Charlie Baker on the September Republican primary ballot, the state party said.
Fisher campaign manager Debbie McCarthy said the campaign was considering filing two lawsuits: one disputing the convention results and another alleging collusion between the party and Baker’s campaign, in violation of party rules. A party official said the vote and the process were fair.
McCarthy said the Fisher campaign was mulling “a civil suit in order to get e-mails, text messages, and phone records to prove collusion.”
In most instances bylaws prohibit state party staff from helping “any candidate in favor of another candidate in . . . a contested Republican primary.”
Rob Cunningham, executive director of the state Republican party, declined to comment on possible lawsuits, but said “leading up to and during the convention, the Mass GOP has always strived to be as equitable as humanly possible with our candidates involved in primaries.”
If Fisher had made the primary ballot, it could have forced Baker, who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, to spend time fending off a challenge from the right. And it could have made it more difficult for him to focus on drawing a contrast between himself and the five Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination.
At the state Republican convention on Saturday in Boston, Fisher needed to receive 15 percent of the 2,533 votes cast by delegates to be included on the September primary ballot, according to representatives of the state GOP.
He fell short of that threshold by less than half a percentage point, party officials declared more than an hour and a half after initial results had been announced.
“He did not obtain 15 percent,” Kirsten Hughes, the chairwoman of the state GOP, said on Saturday, adding, “14.765 is not 15 percent.”
Baker, the party’s 2010 nominee, received 82.708 percent of the votes on Saturday and there were 64 “blank votes,” the party said in a press release.
McCarthy alleged that party rules governing everything from who was considered a delegate to how their votes were counted shifted during the convention.
“Yesterday, the rules changed throughout the day,” she said, underlining what she said was a change in the procedure for blank votes — instances that Cunningham described as delegates voting present, but supporting neither Baker nor Fisher.
Cunningham said the rules did not change and that there was “full transparency for the entire process for both campaigns.”
He acknowledged that there had been some confusion around the blank votes but said some ballots that were initially, and erroneously, counted as blank were not included in the final tally.
Cunningham also defended the delay between the time the initial result was announced and the time the final tally was released.
“It is understandable that when it is so close, that there is the belief or the desire to assume that shenanigans are going on,” Cunningham said. “And I think it is important . . . to know that the delays meant we were taking our time to do it right.”
Details of what transpired on Saturday remain unclear. The final vote was tallied in a room that media observers were prohibited from entering.
But some GOP delegates expressed displeasure with what they said was a chaotic process.
Patricia Doherty, a Republican state committeewoman from Medford, said “the entire convention was rather messy, which I think hurt both [gubernatorial] candidates.”
James P. Ehrhard, a GOP delegate from Sturbridge and a candidate for state Senate, said he was a strong Baker supporter, but thought the disorder called for a recount.
“For the good of the party, and to make sure there is no anger on any side of this issue, it’s best that they have a transparent and full recount,” he said.
But Cunningham said there is no provision for a recount.
Richard Howell of Wilbraham, who said he was a delegate who supported Fisher, said the whole process could dampen support for Baker.
“After this obvious mishandling of the convention,” Howell said, “the rank and file are not going to enthusiastically endorse this ticket.”
Christopher Pinto, a Worcester Republican activist who was a delegate at the convention, which still uses pen and paper in the voting process, bemoaned the problems associated with a close result.
“I had the fear that if it was close, potentially, mistakes could be made and if that happened there would be conspiracy theories about people cheating,” said Pinto, a software engineer who suggested that a computerized vote could eliminate similar unrest in the future.