Early Voting has smooth start

Oct 22, 2020 by

Published October 22, 2020

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — By all accounts, Early Voting and mail-in voting have both been hugely popular in town in advance of the Nov. 3 election, with 575 voters casting their ballots in the first three days alone, Town Clerk Barbara Stats reported to the Select Board Monday night. This included four hours of voting on both Saturday and Sunday and seven hours on Monday.

During this presidential election year, there will be two full weeks of Early Voting, including two weekends, all of it taking place at the Town Hall gymnasium, 235 North St. from Saturday, Oct. 17 and Friday, Oct. 30 inclusive.

Mail-in voting is also setting records. “We’re well into the election period right now. We’ve mailed out 4,600 ballots and they are coming back fast and furiously,” she said.

There are more than 11,500 registered voters in town.

And the red, white and blue dedicated ballot box in front of Town Hall is also quite popular, enabling voters to skip the stamp. “We are emptying it a couple of times a day. It does fill up quickly and people are using it more than the U.S. mail,” Stats observed. That ballot box will be in use until 8 p.m. on election night, Nov. 3, when the polls close and it will be locked.

Of those 575 early voters to date, she said 90 had requested mail-in ballots, so those 90 ballots will not be getting returned. She believes having the option to do mail-in voting or in-person voting has provided many voters a level of comfort in knowing they have a choice about how and when to cast their ballot, if circumstances change due to COVID-19 either personally or within the community.

The Town Clerk and her staff are now formulating “a plan for election day voting” at St. Theresa’s parish hall on Winter Street to ensure that they follow “proper procedures and safety protocols under COVID conditions to make sure that the safety of all the voters and workers is recognized, so I’m working closely with the Police Department on that.” On Nov. 3, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Stats added that these procedures will be released to the public soon.

Select Board member Stephen O’Leary asked Stats what percentage of mailed ballots had been sent back to Town Hall. She could not give a percentage at this time, as a report has not yet been run. “We’ve been so busy processing them to get them online so that if people want to track their ballot they can see it,” she said.

O’Leary said he and his wife voted early over the weekend and the process went smoothly. He followed up by asking if the early voted ballots had been counted.

Stats explained that at this point, “no ballot can be run through a machine. A lot of people question that, but the state law does not allow that. They have to be sealed in an affidavit envelope and then we process them through the state computer system to acknowledge that we have received it. That goes on to the tracking platform of the secretary of the state’s office and then they’re all stored in the vault temporarily until either we initiate an advance process, as allowed under the law, or same-day election processing.”

“You have not decided if you are going to early process?” O’Leary asked.

“I am leaning that way. I am getting teams in place now,” Stats said. “We are constantly in touch with the secretary of state’s office election division to get the best updates we can. I have time to make that decision.” Per the law starting next week, she said, poll workers can begin processing ballots which involves a lot paperwork to document it.

“The ballots would be ‘advanced removed’ from their affidavit envelope by a team and then they may or may not be ‘advanced processed’ through a tabulator at that time, without running any results. No results from any tabulator machine could be run until 8 p.m. on November 3,” Stats explained.

“We’re looking at different options. At the Primary we handled that at the polling place. In lieu of check-out workers we had our workers at those stations processing all of those ballots into the ballot box,” she said.

“Chapter 115 of the Acts of 2020 does give some options for clerks in processing these (ballots) and we are looking at all the options to make sure we choose the one that will best suit the needs for North Reading and allows for smooth access at the polls and unfettered access to the ballot box,” Stats said.

O’Leary also commented that a couple of residents had indicated to him that when they had dropped off their ballots into the designated ballot drop box in front of Town Hall that they had seen “an individual standing by the drop off ballot box, arms crossed, observing the activity in close proximity to it,” which had made them uncomfortable.

O’Leary asked Stats if there had been any requests made by “candidates or political parties for official observers either inside or outside the polling place” or if there was any protocol in place with regard to this ballot drop box.

Stats said no such requests had been made during Early Voting and none of her poll workers had mentioned seeing a person standing near the box. She added that she had wished the individuals who had raised these concerns had contacted her or a poll worker when it had taken place so that someone could look into it.

She said there would be no prohibition against anyone standing near the box in front of Town Hall “unless they were with a campaign and they were trying to intimidate voters. We would need to know that. The registrars have a policy in place for Early Voting that prevents electioneering within 25 feet of any entrance,” Stats said.

She asked O’Leary to have those who raise these concerns to contact her so she can look into it further.

Select Board member Liane Gonzalez asked if there was a camera there and if someone could look back to the date in question.

“There are security cameras at the Town Hall,” Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto said, adding it would be helpful to have more specific details as to the date and time of the incident to narrow it down.

Early Voting hours

Early Voting hours at Town Hall from now through Friday, Oct. 30 are: (Weekends) – Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.; (Weekdays) – Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

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