A formal challenge to the signatures on School Committeeman Bernie D’Onofrio’s Nomination Papers Monday resulted in the disqualification of nine signatures by the Election Commission, which put D’Onofrio under the necessary limit of 250 and removed him from the ballot.
The unprecedented move, brought by School Committee candidate David Lindsey Jr., also eliminated the need for a Preliminary Election in September for School Committee.
“The total numbers of signatures certified by the Election Commission is 254 and we have nine signatures that have been rejected,” said City Clerk Sergio Cornelio. “That gives us 245 signatures now and that would remove Mr. D’Onofrio from the ballot…We will remove Mr. D’Onofrio from the ballot. He is in the 3rd position on the ballot and so everyone will move up a spot. It also takes us from eight candidates to seven, which means there will be no trigger for a Preliminary Election on School Committee at-large.”
Lindsey, who had gone through a roller coaster process to challenge the signatures – a process where the City had made a mistake on the deadlines, said he was happy to see the process play out correctly and that the Commission made a fair judgment.
“I can say that I feel very proud to be an Everett citizen today,” Lindsey said after the proceedings Monday at City Hall. “I feel that today objectivity was able to rein. I’m happy to see the process be carried out in an unbiased way. I look forward to earning the votes of Everett residents now.”
D’Onofrio had served on the School Committee for eight years, being the chair last year. Before that, he had served two years.
He said he was not able to make the meeting, which started at 4 p.m., due to having to be at work in Bank of America until 7 p.m. He had asked for them to make the meeting later in the evening so he could be there, but he said they wouldn’t budge on the time. That said, he indicated Tuesday morning that he didn’t intend to challenge the ruling and that he would finish his term and go back to being a non-elected citizen of the city.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ve told my supporters to let it go and we’ll move on. I’m not going to hire a lawyer. My full-time job is more important than this. I just want to thank the voters for all their support and the students and families that I’ve tried to help in my time on the Committee. I did it for the City and for the students. I’ll finish off my term and hopefully we get the right people in.”
Interestingly, D’Onofrio had leveled 38 challenges to the Nomination Papers of every candidate on the ballot. Those challenges were quickly dismissed by the Commission on Monday for being too vague.
D’Onofrio said he had asked them to pull the challenges when he found out he wasn’t going to be able to attend the meeting. He said he did it because he wanted to seem impartial, and that he had heard some were accusing him of racism in counter-challenging Lindsey’s signatures.
At Monday’s meeting, it was a packed house in the Keverian Room – a rare sight for a mid-August afternoon meeting.
After dismissing D’Onofrio’s 38 challenges, the Commission set to the real work of analyzing more than 50 signatures alleged by Lindsey to be fraudulent. It was a line-by-line process that took nearly two hours to sort through by Commissioners Dorothy Martin-Long and Brian McCarthy (who were joined by Cornelio and Director of Elections Linda Angiolillo).
“When you sign your name, you are vouching for this person,” Lindsey said. “I think everyone should have the opportunity to sign their own name in this process. In this case, I think this candidate tried to circumvent the democratic process by either himself, or someone else associated, signing these signatures because many are basically the same signatures…Essentially, there were redundant signatures where you could tell one person wrote them. Sometimes it was two signatures that were the same, and sometimes it was as many as six or seven.
“There are sheets where it seems a continuous pattern where…the registered voters were not the people who signed them,” he continued. “I think in some cases they went down the voter rolls and wrote down the names…When people sign their signature, they’re not signing their last name first and then their first name. That was something that stood out to me at first that told me things might not be quite right.”
State law is clear that one person cannot sign for another person unless there is a medical hardship.
Lindsey’s presentation was elegant and appealed to the process and making sure every detail was followed.
The nitty gritty, however, was for the Commission to decide – going through every signature challenged by Lindsey and determining whether the handwriting was similar. As a rule, the Commission was advised that in “groupings” of one family, if they chose to reject signatures, they should keep one, and reject the others.
It was also noted that the Commission does not have the right to disqualify signatures during the traditional Certification process. They can only do the “deep dive” they did on Monday if there is a successful challenge by a voter.
After 90 minutes of going through the signatures one-by-one, the Commission emerged with nine rejected signatures. That was enough to disqualify D’Onofrio from the ballot and knock back the need for a Preliminary Election.