House Breaks For Weekend Without Filling Rep. Seat

Massachusetts State House in Boston downtown, Beacon Hill

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BOSTON (State House News Service) - House lawmakers left a question mark dangling over the chamber's 160th seat when they broke for the weekend Thursday morning without resolving who will represent the roughly 40,000 people of the Second Essex District for the next two years, while the representative of another Essex County district opined that voters should get to return to the polls and hold a new election.

Last fall's photo-finish between Republican Rep. Leonard Mirra of Georgetown, a five-term incumbent, and Democrat challenger Kristin Kassner of Hamilton was subject to a hand recount. After retabulation, Mirra's 10-vote lead turned into a one-vote deficit. Those updated results were certified by the Governor's Council though have been contested by Mirra in court.

The path forward rests in the hands of a House special committee, organized two weeks ago on Inauguration Day, which is reviewing both candidates' arguments before recommending to the full House which one of them should be admitted to the floor. Mirra continues to serve in office meanwhile on a holdover basis.

"I would hope that they would do another election on that," Ninth Essex Rep. Donald Wong told the News Service when asked for his thoughts on the contested seat.

The Second Essex District encompasses Georgetown, Hamilton, Ipswich, Newbury, Rowley, and half of Topsfield.

"Because it was so close," the Saugus Republican said. "You know, it's not like 17 votes. It was one. He was up by 10, and then now he's down by one. So I would hope that they would consider to have another election."

House Speaker Ronald Mariano reiterated Wednesday that he "asked [the committee] to just work as quickly as they can to get this resolved because we have a person sitting out there, two people sitting out there."

"So I would like to get it resolved as quickly as we can," Mariano told reporters, without offering a specific timeline for a resolution.

The special committee received two assignments on Jan. 4, and completed one of them -- resolution of the First Middlesex seat -- on Tuesday night by reporting that Democrat Margaret Scarsdale was the proper representative-elect from that district.

All three of the panel's members, including House Republican Leader Bradley Jones Jr., signed off on the recommendation which was unanimously adopted in the House later that night.

A recount in the First Middlesex showed Scarsdale winning by seven votes. With an even tighter margin in the Mirra-Kassner contest, Wong's comment Thursday could indicate Republicans are hoping to make more of a point with the North Shore race after the recount there was nearly a draw. Jones did not return a call from the News Service by deadline.

While Scarsdale's Republican opponent, Andrew Shepherd, disputed the process by which ballots were counted in Middlesex County, Mirra pointed to specific paper ballots that he argued should have been counted in his favor under state election law.

Lawyers for the two North Shore candidates disagreed over one particular ballot, on which a voter had penned former President Donald Trump's name as a write-in candidate.

Mirra's attorney, former Rep. Michael Sullivan, said that while Trump's name was written on the ballot, only the bubble by Mirra's name was filled in. Sullivan argued that the ballot would count for Mirra under existing case law because the oval next to the write-in section was not filled in.

On the other hand, Kassner's lawyer, Gerald McDonough, said there was "no mistake about it in my mind" that he had seen both Mirra's bubble and the write-in bubble filled in when he viewed the ballot.

Lack of agreement on the basic facts of one ballot makes all the difference in this race. If that one Trump ballot, for example, were counted for Mirra, the election would be a literal tie.

Mariano's office on Thursday simply offered that the committee is "still reviewing" the matter.

The special committee's chairman, Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham, pointed to the "distinct" differences between the Mirra-Kassner race and Scarsdale's race against Shepherd.

"The Special Committee is actively considering the returns in the Second Essex seat, which presents issues distinct from the First Middlesex District returns. It remains the intention and the goal of the Special Committee to resolve this matter as expeditiously as possible," Day said in a statement Thursday.

After her swearing-in ceremony this week, Scarsdale said she was "looking forward to serving with [Kassner] shortly."

"I think that the special committee is going through a very specific type of process, and I think that we will all respect whatever decision they end up coming forward with," the Pepperell Democrat added.

With representatives in the midst of filing their initial bursts of bills before a Friday deadline, House colleagues have been tuned into the process at varying degrees.

Rep. Steven Owens, a Watertown Democrat, said he watched the special committee's hearings with the candidates last week and he expects a decision to be rendered "soon."

"I think that this was their opportunity to be heard, at this point, right? My understanding is that the Constitution puts everything in the hands of the House at this point, and if [the candidates] wanted to have their concerns heard, that was the only opportunity that they were constitutionally allowed to have at this point in the process," Owens said, adding that he is not a lawyer and "all I know is what I watched in the hearings."

Rep. Rob Consalvo, on the other hand, said he is "just focused on bill-filing and my district."

The Hyde Park Democrat said he is "aware of what's going on" but he has not "really paid attention" to the Second Essex dispute, instead focusing his attention on legislative proposals like one to establish fare-pricing equity for commuter rail stations in Boston.

Written By Sam Doran

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