Task Force May Be Formed – Issues Remain In Committee
by William Legault
The City Council Committee on Government Services, led by Chairperson Heather Famico met on Tuesday night in a public meeting to discuss the on-going voting rights issues. These issues were brought to light by the Latino Leadership Coalition just prior to the recent Presidential primary here in Massachusetts following a long and unsuccessful attempt to have the matter addressed informally.
Representatives from the Latino Leadership Coalition (LLC), Council on Aging (COA), Salem Commission On Disabilities (SCOD), No Place For Hate Committee (NPFH), Salem CDC, Board of Registrars (BOR), and Common Cause were present for the meeting. Also attending were Mayor Driscoll, The Salem Chief of Police Mary Butler, the City Solicitor Beth Rennard, and the Salem Constituents Services Coordinator.
In response to questions from Chairperson Famico, Rennard stated that she is checking to see whether or not a Home-Rule petition is required for the City to issue ballots in Spanish. She is also working with the Board of Registrars to develop specific language on their behalf for the Memorandum of Understanding that the Latino Coalition has presented to address the identified voting issues.
Mayor Driscoll commented that, despite the work that has already been done, “the changes have not been deep enough or swift enough. It is a larger issue than voting rights. There is a disconnectedness. We are sometimes a community within a community. I hope that we can work in a spirit of cooperation.”
In response to the Mayor Ward 4 Councillor David Eppley suggested strongly that more resources need to put into the elections training process. “Money needs to made available to attract translators” said Eppley. He also added the need for addition funding for the upcoming early elections processes.
Chief Butler of the SPD spoke on police responsibilities and pointed out that they also have to deal with matters of perception in addition to policy and procedures.
The role and responsibilities of the the Board of Registrars in elections are quite limited according to BOR Chairman Chuck Barton. There are concerns that if they assume a supervisory and oversight role it will disqualify them from organizing and supervising a recount.
Members of the Salem Commission on Disability expressed concerns as to parking at specific polling stations, and remarked strongly on the confusing situation at Witchcraft Heights regarding where each precinct voters should go to cast their ballot. Debra Lobsitz, the SCOD chairperson reminded all that they are there for assistance as needed.
Demographics as opposed to other similar communities came up after Ana Nuncio of the LLC presented the council with a chart displaying what Salem does and does not do when it comes to providing education and access to foreign language voters. Salem does not compare well with Methuen, Lynn. Lawrence, and Revere.
After handing out copies of the timeline documenting the many complaints and the attempts to have them addressed, Luchy Corchado of the LLC described their efforts as “teeth-pulling and pushing.” She stressed that oversight and accountability were needed and asked if there is a mechanism in place to address concerns. “There needs to be a clear process and consequences need to be defined.” She said.
The meeting ended with a vote to keep all matters in committee and by asking the City Solicitor to draft language for a council order to form a task force to address early voting and other election related matters.
Rennard will also look into the matter of potentially forming an elections commission.