Towns’ early voting costs to be reimbursed

  • Northfield Town Hall is frequently decorated for holidays with a large flag that was donated by a resident and is put up by the Highway Department, according to Town Secretary Sandra Wood. The flag adorned Town Hall in the days following Independence Day. Taken Thursday, July 6, 2017.

  • Northfield Town Hall. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE Shelby Ashline

  • Northfield Town Hall is located at 69 Main St. in Northfield. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE Shelby Ashline

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Orange Town Hall by night Chris Curtis

Recorder Staff
Sunday, January 14, 2018

Some Franklin County towns could be reimbursed a chunk of the costs incurred from early voting last November as the state auditor has recommended $1,063,978 in compensation to the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts.

Suzanne Bump ruled the 2014 state law requiring all state voters to have the option of early voting in the general election is an unfunded cost that must be reimbursed to cities and towns. Municipalities are required by the early voting law to permit residents to vote up to 12 days before Election Day.

Bump has recommended $14,707.15 be dispersed throughout 16 Franklin County towns, with Orange getting the most, at $2,200. Eleven towns, however, are not recommended to receive any money.

Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer said she could not remember the exact costs of early voting, but she felt the potential $2,200 would be fair reimbursement. She said she had to buy new voting booths and a new ballot box for the election and had to hire workers to assist in the responsibilities of assisting people interested in voting early. She also said the early-voting period required a lot of hours she will not be compensated for because she is salaried.

All reimbursements must be approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor before cities and towns receive the money.

This was the first time there was early voting in Massachusetts.

Greenfield is to be reimbursed $298.50, the figure Town Clerk Deborah Tuttle said she expected. However, she said that number does not accurately reflect the time and money early voting cost Greenfield.

“We got no regular town work done because we were constantly for two weeks just doing voting,” she said, adding that Town Hall was open one Saturday for the public’s convenience. “It was constant lines of people.”

She said any reimbursement would go into the city’s General Fund.

Athol, which is in Worcester County, has been recommended for $4,831. Town Clerk Nancy Burnham said “I think it’s great. It covers cost of the workers that were hired,” she said, adding that one-third of the town’s registered voters took advantage of early voting. “We had to hire workers at the last minute ... because we could not handle it in our office.”

Burnham said she also had to purchase a large ballot box and extra voting booths.

Athol Town hall was open additional hours, including two Fridays and a Saturday, to accommodate early voters.

Bump recommended $600 for Deerfield, where Barbara Hancock serves as town clerk, tax collector and treasurer.

“I’m grateful that we’re getting something, but at the same time, I don’t know that it accurately explains what it cost us,” she said. “It was extremely busy.”

Hancock said early voting required extra work from herself as well as the assistant to the town clerk and the assistant to the tax collector/treasurer.

Colrain is one of the 11 towns not slated to receive any reimbursement, and Town Clerk Robin Hartnett said it is because her town had no out-of-pocket expenses for early voting. Another town not receiving reimbursement is Wendell, and that’s just fine with Town Clerk Gretchen Smith.

“I met the requirements for early voting using my regular office hours, which include Saturday mornings. I felt any extra costs were negligible, and did not warrant assistance from the state,” she wrote in an email. “We definitely were busier with 96 voters taking advantage of the (early voting) process.”

Smith also noted that the early voting option did not increase the percentage of registered voters that cast ballots in the state election, though people appreciated the convenience it offered.

Northfield Town Clerk Dan Campbell said the $930 recommended for his town seems like a sufficient reimbursement. He said Town Hall was open one Saturday to accommodate. He said 700 ballots were cast early.

Town by town

Ashfield: $1,755; Athol: $4,831; Bernardston: $170; Buckland: $102; Charlemont: $0; Colrain: $0; Conway: $176; Deerfield: $600; Erving: $880; Gill: $0; Greenfield: $298.50; Hawley: $0; Heath: $908; Leverett: $150.65; Leyden: $90; Monroe: $0; Montague: $899; New Salem: $0; Northfield: $930; Orange: $2,200; Rowe: $432; Shelburne: $0; Shutesbury: $0; Sunderland: $0; Warwick: $285.