SALEM — The recent court battle over Salem's Ward 6 election results came with a price — one that cost the two candidates in the race thousands of dollars and has forced City Hall to look for more money to cover its own legal bills.
Jerry Ryan, a former city councilor, lost his bid for the seat by one vote in November. After a recount affirmed that outcome, Ryan sued the city in an effort to have either the results overturned or the court order the city to hold a new election for the ward. A Lawrence Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday in favor of the city, paving the way for Megan Riccardi to finally be sworn in Thursday night as the new Ward 6 city councilor.
In a statement on Thursday, Ryan said he does not plan to appeal the court's decision regarding the election outcome, but he is challenging the city's requirement for certain voters to show ID at the polls.
City Solicitor Beth Rennard said the Ward 6 election trial cost the city $100,000. The legal department, she said, has an annual budget of $50,000 for out-of-department costs.
"I only have $50,000 for the year for outside legal counsel money. I use that for title searches, recording fees, appraisers, and outside expert legal counsel," Rennard said. "I don't think I have any extra money for this litigation, so I'll have to go in for a supplemental."
"Supplemental" means asking the City Council to find additional money in the city budget to foot the rest of the bill. Rennard said the council will likely take up that request in early February.
In all, Riccardi said she paid about $14,000 — $2,000 for representation during the recount and another $12,000 for the trial.
Ryan said he's not sure yet what the case has cost him.
"I'm waiting to get a bill," he said. "Personally, I've put aside $11,000 of my own money just in case. I had about $3,000 in my campaign account."
Questioning city's election policy
Ryan may have now accepted the outcome of the case and the election, but said Thursday he is asking the Massachusetts Appeals Court to look at "whether the city's policy requiring identification from certain 'flagged' individuals meets election law standards."
"This appeal does not affect Megan Riccardi," Ryan said, "whom I congratulate and wish good luck as the next councilor of Ward 6."
A key issue in the trial focused on the case of a Spanish-speaking resident who attempted to vote just before polls closed, but was turned away because he lacked identification that showed his Salem residency. He had registered to vote at the state's Department of Transitional Assistance, which the city clerk's office handled as a "mail-in" registration once it received the registration on paper.
Testimony at trial cast him as a Ryan voter, so had he voted, the election would have ended in a tie.
But Rennard said a new automatic voter registration law that went into effect Jan. 1 will likely keep situations like this from happening in the future.
The law, passed in 2018, allows agencies that already confirm residency, such as the state's Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth and the Department of Transitional Assistance, to conduct automatic voter registration alongside typical transactions. The information will be sent to the Secretary of State's office, then sent electronically to communities where the registered voters reside.
Rennard said she hopes the new law helps to defray election-related costs like the trial in the future.
"The taxpayers in the city of Salem would be paying for what really is a Secretary of State issue," Rennard said. "It should be resolved at that level, not this level."