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Mass. House Democrat who won by 1 vote takes seat after split panel recommendation

By Susannah Sudborough,


Kristin Kassner will now be the 2nd Essex District representative.
Hamilton democrat Kristin Kassner will now be the 2nd Essex District representative. Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

After a recount, legal challenges, and a Massachusetts House of Representatives panel review, the House voted Wednesday to approve seating Democrat Kristin Kassner as the 2nd Essex District representative.

The 2nd Essex District seat has been contested since the initial vote count from the November election found that Kassner was losing to Georgetown Republican and incumbent Lenny Mirra by just 10 votes.

The race was so close that Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin ordered a hand recount, after which Kassner led by one vote.

Mirra mounted legal challenges against Kassner’s win, arguing that human error impacted the recount, but notably filed them after the election results were certified by the Governor’s Council.

In January, the House put together a three member panel with two Democrats and one Republican to review the evidence and recommend a winner.

On Wednesday, the House voted to seat Kassner in line with the recommendation of the split panel’s majority, which was announced Tuesday.

While the Democratic majority on the panel felt challenges to the final vote count were made too late, the Republican minority called for a closer review of the ballots.

In its report, the panel said it chose not to sort through three ballots Mirra had contended were incorrectly counted. It argued that he sacrificed his right to have them reviewed by waiting until after the election had been certified to file his lawsuit, and that if the review were to happen, it should be through the court system.

“When, as is true in this matter, a candidate is provided the prescribed time and process to object to ballots prior to certification, the House of Representatives is not a proper forum for calling balls and strikes on challenges to the determination of the intent of individual voters,” the panel’s two Democrats wrote in the majority report. “Allowing such redress runs contrary to our system of government and its attendant commitment to timely election results.”

Additionally, they wrote, scrutinizing individual votes in this case “unnecessarily opens the door for potential future mischief from unscrupulous candidates seeking to impugn the integrity of the Commonwealth’s elections.”

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, the lone Republican on the panel, disagreed with their findings. In his minority report, he wrote that given the extremely tight margin, the panel could not accurately determine who won the election without reviewing the ballots in question.

Jones wrote that he thought the claim that some of the ballots were inaccurately counted was credible. Conversely, the Democrats wrote that they felt Mirra provided no evidence of this “beyond pure speculation.”

Jones also called the majority report’s assertion that going through the individual ballots would welcome bad faith attempts to overturn an election in the future “gross speculation without any foundation.”

Still, the panel’s two Democrats conceded that its investigation found “concerning” evidence of human error.

“While these missteps had no impact on the integrity or the final outcome of the election, similar missteps in the future, if occurring on a larger scale, could affect future elections,” they wrote.

For this reason, they wrote, the state’s mail-in voting and early voting laws may need small revisions.

Mirra has so far kept his seat during this legislative session, which has been in progress for about a month now, as a holdover, pending the decision of the panel.

He told The Boston Globe Tuesday that he would concede the election and not pursue any more legal challenges.

Still, Mirra told the newspaper, he is frustrated that the panel decided not to review some individual ballots.

“This is not a stolen election. There is no conspiracy here. But who is supposed to look into the basic human error, if not the courts and if not this committee?” Mirra said. “It’s very unfortunate that they’re going to try to sweep us under the rug.”

Kassner, who resides in Hamilton, told State House News Service Tuesday she was “pleased” with the panel’s decision. “I look forward to joining my fellow state reps very soon,” she said.

In mid-January, the House voted to seat another Democrat who had been part of a contested election with a razor-thin vote margin, First Middlesex District Rep. Margaret Scarsdale. After a hand recount, Scarsdale was found to have won by seven votes, and was unanimously recommended as the winner by the review panel.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, who declined to seat Kassner or Scarsdale until the panel reviewed the races, told the Globe Tuesday he was “confident” in the panel’s findings.

Mariano’s reluctance to seat the two Democrats drew blowback from others in his party, with some activists arguing that the Quincy Democrat was validating election denialism.

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