Complaint Seeks Judgment Ordering Town To Certify At Least 76 Signatures
Amherst voters who claim that the signatures they submitted to the Town on April 20 were wrongly disqualified by the Town’s Board of Registrars over trivial and unlawful issues such as absent middle initials, have filed suit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.
A copy of the complaint can be downloaded using the link below.
Exhibits associated with the complaint can be downloaded using the links below.
The lawsuit, filed by 40 registered voters in the Town, seeks a judicial order that the Board of Registrars of the Town of Amherst must certify at least 76 signatures submitted by petitioners and conclude that the petition satisfies the 5% threshold for a Voter Veto petition contained in the Amherst Home Rule Charter.
“We hoped for a speedy, local resolution to the wrongful disqualification of numerous signatures, over bizarre issues such as including or excluding a middle initial, failing to write ‘St.” after a street name, or including the word ‘Amherst’ in a street address,” said petitioner Marla Jamate. “However, no local remedy was forthcoming, and the rights of voters to petition their government cannot simply be forgotten, ignored, or set aside.”
The petitioners seek a referendum on the Town Council’s April 5 decision to borrow $35 million to reconstruct the Jones Library. They submitted 1,088 signatures to the Town on April 20, according to the Town Clerk’s Office. The office announced the following day that the petition group was 22 certified signatures short of the number the Board of Registrars has ruled is needed to trigger a Voter Veto referendum under the Amherst Home Rule Charter. The Board refused to certify 246 signatures.
In analyzing the rejected signatures, the petitioners found that many were provided by long-term registered voters, including former Town employees and elected officials. The group appealed over 100 rejections to the Board of Registrars, and submitted 92 affidavits from residents who stated that they signed the petition in their normal manner, and would like their signatures to be counted.
Massachusetts General Law requires that signatures on petitions be “substantially” rather than “exactly” as registered in order to be certified. It provides further, “[i]f the registrars can reasonably determine from the form of the signature the identity of the duly registered voter, the name shall be deemed to have been signed substantially as registered.”
The new lawsuit states that the Board failed to certify some signatures where a petitioner included or excluded their middle initial, spelled out rather than abbreviated addresses of Lane or Street as “Ln” or “St.,” or spelled out rather than abbreviated the street name Crossbrook as “Cross Brk.”
The new lawsuit charges the Board of Registrars with violating state law and regulations in failing to certify signatures, and in failing to protect voters’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
Boards of Registrars are responsible for certifying signatures on nomination papers and petitions, issuing party enrollment and voter registration certificates, and investigating objections and challenges to local nomination papers. Registrars take an oath to perform their duties faithfully, and can face penalties under Massachusetts General Law for prevention of registration, fraud, and refusing to perform their duties.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Town Council President Lynn Griesemer declined to comment on the pending suit.
No hearing dates are set yet in the case, Terry Y. Allen vs. Board of Registrars, which was filed on May 20 by Attorney Carol Gray of Amherst, and Attorney Thomas O. Bean, of Verrill Dana LLP in Boston.