Madeline Varitimos, the 79-year-old chairwoman of the Methuen Board of Registrars of Voters, lifted her thick magnifying glass to inspect the ballot in question. The ovals next to two congressional candidates were filled in, but one had an X through it. “Because the X was so clear and definitive,” Varitimos said, the intent was to obliterate the vote for Dan Koh of Andover and cast the ballot for Lori Trahan of Lowell. Her colleagues agreed. Such was the drama and routine at the beginning of a sprawling five-day ballot recount process in the Third Congressional District’s Democratic primary. Spanning 37 cities and towns, the recount has set out to tally by hand 89,000 ballots to determine a nominee who will move on to the Nov. 6 general election to face a Republican and an independent candidate.
In the primary’s original tally, Trahan, a former congressional chief of staff, topped a crowded field with 18,527 votes. But Koh, a former mayoral chief of staff in Boston who trailed her by 122 votes, gathered the necessary signatures to request each ballot in the district be counted by hand. And on Thursday, Koh appeared to be attempting to further fan flames of doubt about the outcome.
First, some background: On Monday, Secretary of State William F. Galvin formally ordered a recount and also said he was taking control of the elections departments in Lowell and Lawrence, the Third Congressional District’s two largest cities. He cited staffing issues in Lawrence and said there had been administrative errors in how Lowell dealt with the Sept. 4. election, which also prompted him to initiate an investigation into the practices and procedures of the Lowell elections department.
Officials found a “significant number of precincts did not reconcile or had missing information,” Galvin wrote in a letter to Eda Matchak, Lowell’s director of elections. He also raised questions about how her office handled provisional and absentee ballots.