Town clerks speak to registration, early voting changes amid pandemic

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2020 3:53:35 PM

Town officials are announcing important dates and locations for 2020 voter registration, mail-in voting and in-person voting for the state primary on Sept. 1, and the general election, which includes the presidential election, on Nov. 3.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat, is running for re-election, with challengers from both parties. State Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat, is challenging Markey for their party’s nomination. Two Republicans, Kevin O’Connor and Shiva Ayyadurai, are running for their party’s nomination.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Democrat who is running for re-election, is in a race with Alex Morse, the Democratic mayor of Holyoke, for their party’s nomination.

The Secretary of State’s Office has mailed absentee ballot requests to all registered voters in advance of the Sept. 1 primary. The last day for voter registration is Aug. 24. Residents may also register to vote online at vote.org. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Aug. 26.

Greenfield City Clerk Kathy Scott said her office is already “terribly busy” processing registrations and applications for mail-in ballots. She said the city has sent out over 2,800 ballots and is already beginning to receive them back.

Residents must complete, sign and mail their registrations or requests for mail-in ballots to the City Clerk’s Office, 14 Court Square, Greenfield MA 01301. While Scott said it is difficult to predict how the mail-in policies might affect in-person voter turnout, she expects “a plethora of mail-in applications.”

“We received about 500 today,” Scott said Monday.

The Greenfield City Clerk’s Office will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 22 for state primary voter registration. Applications for mail-in ballots for the state primary must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.

In anticipation of a high number of mail-in ballots, Shelburne Town Clerk Joe Judd said the Selectboard approved the purchase of a $1,000 mail and ballot dropbox. In addition to improving residents’ security, the dropbox will also allow residents to drop off ballots outside of Judd’s office hours. While he has yet to pick a location for the locked dropbox, Judd said placing it outside the building would allow for complete no-contact drop-off.

“They won’t even have to touch a doorknob,” he said.

The drop box is set for delivery on Aug. 14 and it will be installed soon after.

Shelburne has roughly 1,410 registered voters, and Judd has already responded to over 400 requests for mail-in ballots. He said the town has never received so many requests, and he suspects mail-in voting will account for the majority of ballots cast.

For those who are still interested in in-person voting, early voting will be held in a new location at the Cowell Gymnasium at 51 Maple St. The town held its first polling day at the gymnasium for June’s town elections.

“We’d been looking to change the polling location, but COVID-19 gave it a boost,” Judd said.

Early in-person voting will be open Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as Aug. 24, Aug. 25 and Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The polls will then be open on Sept. 1 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

According to Athol Town Clerk Nancy Burnham, Athol will hold early voting Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The following week it will be held Aug. 24 to Aug. 28, during regular Town Hall hours. While Town Hall is not normally open Fridays, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 28. Burnham said the town has responded to more than 1,000 requests for mail-in ballots.

“I don’t anticipate a lot of foot traffic at the polls,” Burnham said.

The polls will be open for in-person voting Sept. 1 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Just as it did for the town election in June, Athol has moved its polling location from Memorial Hall, which is on the first floor of Town Hall, to Liberty Hall, which is at the ground level.

Charlemont Selectboard Chair Marguerite Willis said residents should fill out their requests for ballots and mail them in as soon as possible. She also noted that voters must indicate which ballot they want if they are registered as “unenrolled,” which most call independent. Per the new regulations for town clerks from the Secretary of State’s Office, a clerk has the option to call a voter to ask which ballot he or she wants.

“Our town clerk is able so far, but as the schedule tightens, that may not be an option,” Willis said. “Town clerks must enter into their state election computer all who have voted each day they are open, and the behind-the-scenes paperwork can be time-consuming.”

Early in-person voting will be available at the Charlemont Town Hall from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 22, 8 to 10 a.m. on Aug. 23, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 24, 25, 26 and 27.

Under new rules promulgated to town clerks recently, the state will need to inspect places towns choose to use as temporary voting locations. Willis said any changes regarding the polling location, and other pertinent information, will be announced as the info becomes available.

For the September state primary and November general election, Gill officials have chosen to move the town’s polling location to Town Hall due to the pandemic. Gill Town Clerk Doreen Stevens said the normal site at the Fire Station is too cramped to allow for social distancing.

“It was not a tight space until this year,” Stevens said. “But if we’re trying to maintain space between voters and election workers, it’s too tight.”

The Town Hall meeting room could comfortably hold eight voting booths, she noted. The room is upstairs but is accessible by elevator. Markings on the floor will show voters how much space to leave for social distancing.

While Stevens said mail-in ballots will likely be more popular this year, and could lead to lighter in-person turnout, she also noted that the presidential election in November could still draw an especially high in-person attendance.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.



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