SALEM — Day two of a Superior Court trial into the city's Ward 6 election saw fireworks over poll warden duties, police policies and whether the record may have been altered before the court ever got hold of materials for its review earlier this week.
On Friday, the trial was continued until next Thursday, Dec. 26, at 9 a.m.
The day opened with Mary Ellen Manning, the attorney representing Jerry Ryan, accusing the city of attempting "to cure the defect in one of the absentee ballots" when "evidence is supposed to be under lock and key." She argued this had occurred after a formal recount and before the ballots were turned over to the court. This relates to an unknown portion of the record where eight absentee ballots are being challenged by Ryan for various reasons. The court has yet to go over the issue.
Ryan, a former councilor, was defeated on Nov. 5 by Megan Riccardi in the Ward 6 City Council race by just one vote, which was followed by a recount Nov. 25 that yielded the same margin of victory for Riccardi.
"They tampered with it, your honor. They put cured material into the ballot boxes," Manning said Friday, with the term "cured" reflecting a change made to correct an issue. "You can't hear our case now."
Close to seven hours later, as the day was winding down with Salem City Clerk Ilene Simons on the stand, Manning returned to the issue with one final question.
"You're the person," Manning pressed, "who put the absentee ballot of (a voter) after the recount into the materials that were transported to this court."
"Yes," Simons said.
Day one of the trial focused entirely on the case of a Spanish-speaking voter named Ulises Escalera, who was driven by members of Ryan's campaign to the poll site but was not allowed to vote due to lack of identification proving he is a Salem resident.
Day two started on that topic, with Ryan campaign volunteer Rich Wilcock continuing his testimony from Thursday afternoon. Christina St. Pierre, town clerk in Manchester-by-the-Sea and the poll warden for Ward 6 Precinct 1 on Nov. 5, was also called to testify.
Testimony from Wilcock, who had another volunteer drive Escalera to the polls on election day and later helped translate for him, highlighted that Escalera left the poll on his own but felt pressured from a police officer who announced that polls had closed.
St. Pierre's testimony further outlined that Escalera wouldn't have been able to cast a provisional ballot, as the polls were about to close and, under state law, he would've needed to provide proof of residency before that happened — which St. Pierre said was impossible.
Simons' testimony started with a summary of her activities on election day as polls were closing and the Escalera issue was playing out in Ward 6. She testified that she was in Ward 2, working with ballots in a write-in campaign in that ward, where incumbent councilor Christine Madore defeated sticker candidate Stacia Kraft.
One part of Ryan's complaint is over the number of ballots. The first precinct's voter check-in list, in Ward 6, showed 750 voters checked in, while only 749 ballots were cast and then recounted in late November, leading Ryan to contend that there's a missing ballot. The 750 number stems from a report of registered voter names scanned as having voted.
On Friday, Lauren Goldberg — a municipal law attorney who ran the recount and is representing the city and leading its defense in the lawsuit — started explaining the issue while Simons continued to sit on the stand.
"The city's position is that there's no extra ballot, that the ballots counted on election night were exactly matching the ballots counted at the recount," Goldberg said, "that the document that has been submitted here was a report that was requested by the plaintiff, that the city did the job it's supposed to do."
Simons said at one point she went through the check-in list and found three voter names that could've been at issue and perhaps misscanned.
"What you're telling me is a mistake was made," said Judge John Lu. "No missing ballot."
"No sir," Goldberg said.
That later prompted Manning to jump in, saying, "I object to all the testimony coming in from (the city's legal) counsel."