Annual Town Election Planning - Apr 29, 2020

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Video-conferenced forum on election changes due to COVID-19.

(Adam Chapdelaine) The Select Board voted to hold the election on June 6th and asked Mr. Chapdelaine to act as liaison among the different departments that have a role in conducting elections. Access to ballots by mail and safety on election day were two main areas of concern.

Law requires a physical signature when requesting a ballot by mail. The town plans to send postcards to every registered voter in town. Voters simply need to fill out, sign, and return the cards in order to receive a ballot by mail. Health and Human Services is looking into the set of non-English translations that should be provided.

We'll need to ensure that in-person voting is conducted safely on election day. One of the goals will be to limit personal interactions as much as possible. It may be a challenge to staff polling places. At a minimum, we'll need two poll workers per precinct plus five wardens; that's 47 people total. We're likely to consolidate voting locations to five polling places.

We're considering ways in which people could return ballots. In addition to mailing ballots, we might set up locked boxes around town where ballots could be returned. We'll also have a discussion with USPS, to see if the town can arrange to pay postage.

(Christine Bongiorno) Heath and Human Services thought about the election along similar lines as conducting a flu vaccination clinic. HHS recommends 6' separation, 40% occupancy limits, and arranging the flow of lines to prevent people from crossing paths. We'd like to have volunteers that ask voters to keep their faces covered, and perhaps to distribute face masks to those who need them. Poll workers should sit behind Plexiglas barriers, and have masks, gloves, face shields, and hand sanitizer. Voters will drop pens into a bucket after use, and pens will be sanitized between uses. Voting tables should be disinfected between each use. Residents should vote and leave, without interacting with others.

Now, there's a period for questions and comments.

Question: what's the difference between early voting and absentee ballots?

For this election, they're effectively the same.

Question: Should the number of voting locations be limited?

Town departments will provide recommendations to the select board during their May 4th meeting.

Question: What will be the town's approach to finding poll workers?

We'll ask existing poll workers first, then town employees, and then ask for volunteers.

Question: What is the outreach plan?

The postcard (mailed to each registered voter) is the first step in the outreach plan. Since we intend to consolidate polling locations, we'll have to do a second mailing, informing voters of the change in location. We also plan to set up breadboard signs around town. We've also worked with OCPF (Mass Office of Campaign and Political Finance) to determine what town resources can be used to inform voters about candidates.

(Deb Butler) We'll have to include our date of birth and mailing address on the postcard. Ms. Butler believes this will create a risk for identity theft.

The date of birth becomes necessary when several people in the household have the same name (with the same middle initial, or middle initial not given). In those cases, DOB is needed to disambiguate the voter.

(Patti Sawtelle) Will there be legislative changes that allow us to process ballots before June 6th? (i.e., to count returned ballots as they're received, rather than having to wait until election day).

Mr. Chapdelaine believes there's an effort underway, but he'll have to follow-up.

Question: What if I'm away, and not living at my permanent address right now?

You'll have to contact the clerk's office. The postcards will be sent to the addresses on the voting rolls.

(Greg Dennis) What's the procedure for counting early voting ballots, and for counting ballots on election day? What if an voter tries to vote both ways.

Voter names will be checked off when their ballots are recorded. Should a voter submit two ballots, only the first processed will count.

Question: Can we use the form on the Secretary of the Commonwealth's website for early ballot applications?


Question: What's the plan for ensuring that ballots are mailed promptly?

It's best to request your ballot as soon as possible. The clerk's office has four state computer terminals, which must be used when processing mail-in ballot requests.

Question: Can we request a ballot from the town's website?

The website has a form you can download and fill out. It's not an online form, because a physical signature is required.

Question: When should we send in the postcards?

As early as possible.

Question: Do all ballots need to be received by June 6th?

Yes, ballots need to be received by the close of polling on June 6th.

(Gordon Jamieson) It would be nice to have hand sanitizer available on the way in and on the way out. He suggests fold-up postcards, as a way to hide the date of birth. He asks how mailed-in ballots will be processed.

For mailed-in ballots, voters will have to be checked out, just as if they'd voted in person. This can only be done on the day of the election.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins shares the concerns about having DOB written on a postcard. He asks which other towns have upcoming elections, and what they're doing.

Some towns had elections before the stay-at-home orders were instituted. Others are in the same boat as we are. Some have reduced the number of polling places. Mr. Chapdelaine is in regular contact with a group of town managers from other towns; he'll ask them to share election strategies.

(Adam Badik) Can we email a scanned copy of the ballot request form?

Yes, as long as it has a signature.

(Juli Brazile) Will the postcard have some guidance for people who've already sent in forms?

We'll see how much language we can fit on the postcard.

(missed a question)

(Bill Berkowitz) Do we know when the postcards will be mailed out?

This depends on when the printing company has them ready. Hopefully next week.

(Krista Kelleher) How will we ensure safe interactions between voters and poll workers?

The plan is to route people through the polling locations, to minimize opportunity for interpersonal contact. We're still figuring out the best ways to ensure safe interactions.

(Beth Melofchik) Asks a question about DOB.

(Annie Lacourt -- missed the remark)

(Lynette Martyn) Could the postcard include a checkbox to indicate multiple voters having the same name, living at the same address.

(Steve Revilak) Perhaps the card could ask for year of birth rather than date of birth. It seems like the birth year would provide sufficient disambiguation.

(Comment) Please asks campaigns to do unmanned signage on election day.

Mr. Chapdelaine says he'll have to consult with town counsel. He doesn't believe we can tell candidates that they're not allowed to campaign.

(Michael Ruderman) Will ballots be mailed in stages, or all at once?

The post office will send them out on May 15th, all at once.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse notes that's it's currently illegal to place an unmanned sign near a polling place. Earlier in the year, her son requested that absentee ballots be sent to his college dorm. He's back at home now. What should we do in this case?

The clerk's office has been trying to call voters who requested absentee ballots before the pandemic. If no one has called your son, just have him send in a new absentee ballot request.

(Naomi Greenfield) Would it be better to have more poll workers, and have them work shorter shifts?

We'd have to seek guidance from Health and Human Services.

(Patty Muldoon) What about delays due to the post office? Ms. Muldoon says that election wardens are generally pretty busy on election day, and isn't sure we'll be able to reduce the number of wardens.

The town usually checks with the post office several times on the day of an election. The post office is usually pretty good about delivering ballots, but we can't control what happens with the post office.

(Question) Do we want to urge people to vote by mail rather than in person?

Mr. Chapdelaine says he'll have to look into this. He doesn't want to say anything that could be interpreted as voter suppression.

(Jim O'Connor) Mr. O'Connor conducts two polls via the video-conference software. 82% of attendees are currently planning to vote by mail. 75% say that a change in polling location wouldn't affect their decision to vote.

(Comment) Where polling locations are changed, the old location should have signage that directs voters to the new location.

Mr. Chapdelaine thinks this is a reasonable thing to do.

(Patti Sawtelle) Ms. Sawtelle suggests using the town's reverse 911 system to inform residents about the postcard. She suggests considering the Medical Reserve Core and Arlington Emergency Management Agency as resources on election day.

(Len Diggins) Suggests that we shouldn't conclude that most people will vote by mail, based on the survey done here. This group isn't a representative sample of the town.

(Lynette Martyn) Suggests using several reverse 911 calls as a way to reach voters.

(Patty Muldoon) Ms. Muldoon wishes to say a few words on behalf of the league of Women Voters. Sean Garballey regrets having to miss tonight's town forum; his dad recently passed away from COVID-19. The Secretary of the Commonwealth's office has filed legislation that would allow voting by mail in the fall elections. Sean is filing legislation to extend this period. Ms. Muldoon suggests having a phone number that confused voters can call. She notes that May 27th is the last day to register to vote. The League of Women Voters will try to publish information about candidates.

(Gordon Jamieson) Some states have "No excuse absentee ballots", which is effectively the same as vote by mail.

(Patty Muldoon) Notes that the league of women voters has candidate info on

(Lynette Martyn) Asks if the postcard can include the LWV website address.

Mr. Chapdelaine says we'll have to confer with town counsel. Based on conversations with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, we'd need to prove that every candidate had equal access to appearing in LWV materials.