Worcester representative sees long odds for election to fill vacant city seat

A special election to fill a vacant Worcester House seat is a “long shot” and lawmakers who represent the central Massachusetts city have increasingly accepted that part of the community will go unrepresented for the rest of 2012, a House member from a neighboring district said Thursday.

Rep. James O’Day (D-Worcester) told the News Service that a special election to fill the seat vacated last month by Vincent Pedone appears unlikely, primarily because it could create a paperwork nightmare for candidates who want to run for the seat in November’s general election.

A redistricting process completed last year process significantly altered the contours of Pedone’s former district, establishing one of 20 districts with a majority of residents from underrepresented minority groups. But a special election to pick Pedone’s successor would be based on the old district lines, potentially opening the door to litigation, O’Day said. In addition, candidates who want to run in the special election and the general election would need to pull two sets of papers – one for the old district and one for the new district – and could leave themselves prone to election-turning errors, he said.

“I think the likelihood of snafus would be strong,” O’Day said.

Any lawmaker may offer an order calling for a special election, although traditionally the move has been made by the speaker, in the case of a House vacancy, or the Senate president, should a Senate seat open mid-session. Although members of the Worcester House delegation, along with the city council, have indicated their desire to see the seat filled, they have opted against offering such an order.

O’Day said Thursday that their silence on the issue inside the capitol was influenced in part by Secretary of State William Galvin, who warned of the potential confusion a special election would cause and met with the delegation in Worcester last week.

“We would like to have the seat filled. Everyone believes in representation for our constituents. If this was any other year, that would be what the situation would be, we’d be having a special election ... I think it’s very much a long shot that it would happen,” he said. “I understand, again, under any other circumstances, we would not be having this discussion. I know that the speaker is definitely struggling with the decision.”

In a letter to the Worcester election commission, mayor and city manager sent last week, Galvin reiterated his case against a special election, pointing out that voters who participate in the March 6 presidential primary will be casting ballots based on newly redistricted precincts but would then be asked to return to their old precincts for the special election.

“Thus it would be impossible to reconstruct the old precincts without great expense and more importantly, great voter confusion,” he wrote.

In addition, Galvin pointed out that nomination petitions for the 2012 general election will be issued this month, and candidates will begin gathering signatures based upon the new district lines.

“Attempting to simultaneously certify signatures in the old precincts would add to the confusion,” he argued.

O’Day said that residents from the vacant Worcester district can turn to Sen. Harriette Chandler or to the other local lawmakers should they need assistance from Beacon Hill.

“The other four of us feel certainly a kinship to that district and we will do our level best, along with Senator Chandler as well who represents that district, to provide constituent services to make sure we don’t let anything fall short in the budgetary process as well,” he said. “[Pedone] still has an active phone number where constituents can reach. He’s made it pretty clear that Senator Chandler is available and we certainly can all, through her, assist with whatever work needs to be done in that district.”

Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The speaker has previously indicated he is unlikely to support special election for the Worcester seat, or for a Belmont-based seat vacated last week when third-term Rep. William Brownsberger was sworn into the Senate.

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From bostonherald.com