Group alleges 'irregularities' in Palmer casino vote

A citizens group in Palmer, Mass., has asked state officials to investigate "apparent irregularities" in the town clerk's office that the group says may have prevented some residents from registering to vote in last week's referendum on the Mohegan Sun Massachusetts casino proposal.

A recount of the vote, which narrowly rejected the casino project, has been set for Nov. 26.

Citizens for Jobs & Growth in Palmer, a pro-casino group, addressed a letter Tuesday to Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and William Galvin, secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, asking that they investigate several cases in which the group believes residents may have been disenfranchised.

"With the small margin of votes separating the two sides, the possible pattern of voter suppression is troubling, since not all Palmer residents wanting to vote were able to," Jennifer Baruffaldi, the group's spokeswoman, said in the letter, which bears her signature.

Attached to the group's letter were two letters from individuals who had recently moved to Palmer and tried unsuccessfully to register to vote in October and a third letter from a Palmer landlord who described situations in which tenants encountered problems registering.

In a fourth letter the group forwarded, Palmer resident Ursula St. Amand, a veteran poll worker, said the town clerk prevented her from working as a poll warden on Nov. 5 because of her support for the casino.

"The town clerk indicated to me that she was advised by the State Election Commission to have workers who were not involved in the referendum," St. Amand wrote. "... However, anti-casino supporters were among those working the polls, one serving as warden."

Susan Coache, the town clerk, said she was aware of the citizens group's letter but had no comment "at this time."

Coache and other members of the town's Board of Registrars met Tuesday to set the date of the recount, settling on Nov. 26.

Mohegan Sun and the pro-casino Yes for Palmer Committee objected to the late date.

"We're disappointed and surprised that the town has chosen to delay the recount a full three weeks after the Nov. 5 referendum, and two days before the busy Thanksgiving holiday," they said in a statement. "After such a close and emotional election, voters on both sides of the issue deserve a timely and accurate recount of all ballots."

The $1 billion casino project was defeated by 93 votes.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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