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Coercion of voters reported in Chinatown

An Asian-American civil rights organization is calling for an investigation into voting behavior at Chinatown polls during Tuesday's Boston City Council primary election, saying that election workers manipulated voters' choices while showing them how to use new voting machines.

In a two-page complaint sent yesterday to the Boston Election Department and Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the Chinese Progressive Association also contends that at least 17 people who may have been eligible to cast votes were turned away from the polls.

"Such outright campaigning and attempts to influence the vote are clearly way out of bounds for an employee of the Election Department," Lydia M. Lowe, the organization's executive director, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe. "We urge the Election Department to investigate these incidents and to immediately take steps to correct the situation prior to the final election" Nov. 4.

Lowe spent part of Tuesday as a poll observer for Councilor at Large Felix Arroyo, one of the candidates on the ballot. But she said the complaints in her group's letter reflect the observations of four independent poll-checkers and numerous voters. Aside from how the issue might affect Arroyo, she said, the city should pursue the charges because they involved a fundamental democratic right.

The association's complaints join those of a New-York-based civil rights organization that monitored voting in Chinatown and Dorchester. Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he saw city election workers in Savin Hill using campaign pamphlets from Councilor Stephen Murphy to show voters how to fill out their ballots. Magpantay is compiling a detailed report he plans to submit to Boston election officials within two weeks.

Boston Election Commissioner Nancy Lo said yesterday that she had not read the complaints, but she denied that any of the city's election workers tried to influence voters.

"That activity was not conducted by any of our poll workers," Lo said. City officials said yesterday that they have launched an investigation into privacy issues that came up Tuesday, including one instance in which a South Boston precinct warden was allegedly reading completed ballots.On Wednesday, as concerns about Chinatown voting began to circulate, Galvin called the alleged incidents "a serious problem" and said that when his office received a complaint, he would "certainly do an investigation." "There can be no campaign activity within 150 feet of the polling place," he said. "And that applies to everybody. If election workers are engaging in campaign activity, they should be dismissed. Even if the voters say, `Who should I vote for?' the proper answer is `We're not allowed to make that choice for you.' "

One Chinatown voter told the Globe through an interpreter that an election worker at Josiah Quincy School pressured him to vote for numbers 6 and 10 on the ballot, City Council President Michael Flaherty and Patricia White, a candidate for councilor at large.

"He said, `Who are you going to vote for? Vote for 6 and 10,"' said the 15-year Chinatown resident, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Yu. "I told the guy, I know what I'm going to vote for."

A Chinatown voter from the same precinct told the Globe an election worker told him and his wife whom to vote for, then filled out their ballots.

Flaherty, number 10 on the ballot, was unofficially the top vote-winner at the school, receiving 199 votes. White, listed sixth on the ballot and the daughter of former mayor Kevin White, came in second with 184. Arroyo, 11th on the ballot, was third.

Representatives of the White campaign immediately denied involvement with the incidents.

A Flaherty aide said the campaign had no knowledge of pressuring voters.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com

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