Town clerks preparing for primary day on Tuesday

  • Greenfield City Clerk Kathy Scott swears in Mayor Roxann Wedegartner earlier this year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Laurie Lucier was sworn in as Conway town clerk on May 23. She replaced Virginia Knowlton, who worked the job for 40 years. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Published: 3/1/2020 4:55:45 PM

Good morning, neighbor.

I’ve always respected our town clerks and the work that they do. I’ve spoken with many of the clerks throughout Franklin County over two decades and have seen firsthand their responsibilities. Not only do they keep the minutes of every select board and city council meetings, but they have to stay up-to-date on all sorts of state and federal laws and local bylaws.

Prescribed by Massachusetts General Laws, city ordinances, home-rule charters and the Code of Massachusetts regulations, some of the duties they have are: keeping and maintaining all records of births, deaths and marriages, administering oaths to elected and appointed officials, conducting the local annual census, issuing dog licenses, raffle permits and business certificates and so much more.

So, as Tuesday’s primary election approaches, I started thinking about just what they have to do to prepare because, after all, it’s pretty much on their shoulders. The town or city clerk is the chief election officer responsible for conducting all municipal, state and federal elections for each town, responsible for administering voter registration, absentee ballots and early voting, and after local elections are over, they are responsible for administering oaths to elected and appointed officials.

I recently had a brief conversation with three of the county’s town clerks: Kathy Scott in Greenfield, Debra Bourbeau in Montague and Laurie Lucier in Conway. I wanted to know just what they have to do to prepare for the big day and wondered if they would have different answers, because Kathy is clerk of the county hub, its only city, while Laurie is clerk of one of our smaller hill towns. Montague is somewhere in between.

The answer, I found out, is “no.”

Both don’t plan on sleeping much, at least through Wednesday of next week. There’s a lot to be done. Both said they’ve been preparing for weeks. Both love doing what they do and realize that while there’s a lot of work to be done the day before, the day of and the day after, it will all be over soon.

Kathy told me that the week before primary day was all about early voting.

“We were so busy, we had to ask some people to come back for birth certificate or other things after the primary election,” she said.

She said that after early voting ended on Friday afternoon, she was planning on taking the weekend and then would be right back at it on Monday afternoon, when she’ll start to set up in the Greenfield High School gymnasium.

Kathy said at the same time, she’ll be preparing all of the paperwork, including printing voting lists, and everything poll workers will need.

“I’ll actually print voters lists after early voting ends on Friday afternoon,” she said.

She said setting up will be as usual: there will be an information table and nine rows for each of the nine precincts. Polls will open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 8 p.m., but she said she expects to be there until later in the night.

“I hope we’ll have unofficial results by 11 to 11:30,” she said. “Then, I’ll go home and go to sleep.”

Kathy said her alarm will go off by 4 a.m. on Tuesday and she’ll arrive at the high school by some time around 6 a.m. to make sure the poll workers get settled. She said there will be a total of 36 poll workers throughout the day — four per precinct — and one additional person helping at the information table.

She said she expected heavier early voting last week. Between Monday at 8:30 a.m., when it started, and the close of Wednesday, Greenfield had seen 349 early voters. She said she wouldn’t have final numbers until late Friday or so.

She said early-voting ballots and absentee ballots will be taken to the polls on Tuesday, where poll workers will process them just like what would happen if the person was voting that day.

“It’s a lot of work in a short period of time, a lot of preparation, but when you do that, things go a lot smoother,” she said. “It’s all about the preparation. The devil is in the details.”

Kathy said she will have until March 7 to get Greenfield’s results to the state for its count, but hopes to have the results to the state by March 6.

“Even after primary day, the work isn’t quite done in the clerk’s office until everything has been sent to the state,” she said.

Laurie, who has only been Conway’s town clerk for a few months, said she’ll have about 10 people helping her on primary day. She said her lack of sleep has already started happening, because it is her first election in Conway, and she has been dealing with absentee and early voting.

“We’ll be hand-counting our ballots because we don’t have a central tabulation facility,” she said. “Monday afternoon, we’ll be setting up and making sure everything is tested.”

Laurie said she and others will return on Tuesday around 6 a.m. and probably be there until 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Polls open in Town Hall at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

“Then, I’ll be back in the office on Wednesday to report to the state,” she said. “The nice thing is I’ve got volunteers who have been doing this for years, so that will be a huge help.”

Laurie said once the primary election is over, things will go back to normal for a short time, but there will be the town election, town meeting and, in the fall, the general election, so things will get busy again several times this year.

Deb said pretty much the same as Kathy and Laurie, but said that early voting, though very good for voters, put a “crimp” in her preparation for Tuesday.

“We’ll be working through the weekend” Deb said. “That’s OK, though.”

She said Montague will, for the first time, use tabulators, instead of counting ballots by hand, so that’s a big change.

“I’ve been working with poll workers, counters, wardens, everyone to make sure this goes smoothly,” she said. “Plus, the primary is different than other elections, because there are four ballots to choose from this time.”

Deb said ballot testing went well this past week, so she’s ready. She said polls — six precincts in five different locations, which also makes it a little more difficult — will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. She said she’s looking forward to the machine counting the votes this year.

“Maybe we won’t be here until the wee hours,” she laughed.

I would like to thank Kathy, Deb, Laurie and all of the town clerks across the county and in Athol, Petersham, Phillipston and Royalston for all that they do, especially during election season. I appreciate all of you and hope you get some rest after Wednesday. Best of luck to all.

Senior Reporter Anita Fritz grew up in Franklin County after moving from Spokane, Wash., when she was just a few weeks old. She is the regional reporter for the Greenfield Recorder. She covered Greenfield for eight years and has served as features editor for the Recorder and editor for the Athol Daily News.


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