SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

November 14, 2013

Guarding Lawrence ballots will cost $25K by weekend

LAWRENCE — The cost of the around-the-clock police guard stationed outside the City Hall vault holding the 15,210 ballots cast in last week’s mayoral election will surpass $25,000 by this weekend, the earliest a recount of the ballots could be conducted.

Police are guarding the vault in three eight-hour shifts, each with two officers so that both doors to the vault are covered. Each of the six officers manning the detail every day are doing it on overtime because the Police Department does not have the manpower to assign officers to the post during their regular shifts.

At time-and-a-half, each of the cops is earning an average of about $350 a shift, according to police Chief James Fitzpatrick, who provided the number to City Councilor Mark Laplante but did not return a phone call from The Eagle-Tribune seeking to confirm it.

Instead, Fitzpatrick tweeted about it later in the day.

“Officers continue to guard ballots a significant expenditure but insures sanctity of ballots,” Fitzpatrick tweeted at 5 p.m.

The police guard is needed because the outcome of the election remains uncertain. Daniel Rivera has a 58-vote edge over Mayor William Lantigua — equal to less than half a percentage point — headed into the recount, which could begin this weekend if Lantigua files petitions bearing 60 signatures asking for it, as required.

It’s unclear whether the police guard would remain outside the vault if Rivera or Lantigua appeals the recount in state Superior Court, or whether the guard would be called off if the city’s Board of Registrars certifies the result of the election after the recount.

The Election Division office where one officer is stationed is dusty and cluttered, and the hallway outside where the second officer is stationed is cheerless. The job appears tedious, but the officers are finding ways around the tedium. Yesterday, officer Ivan Melendez watched “Lincoln,” the 2012 Steven Spielberg film about the 16th president, on a personal computer while sitting at a desk beside the vault.

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