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As Gardner preps for mayoral elections, MassVOTE recommends voting changes in MA

By Stephen Landry / slandry@thegardnernews.com


GARDNER — A voting rights advocacy group is urging changes to the way local communities hold elections in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.



The City Council recently approved some modifications to the upcoming special mayoral elections to help protect public health, including moving the Ward 3B polling location from the High Rise to the Acadien Club Club and reducing the number of hours polling places will be open. A preliminary election will be held on Tuesday, May 12, and the special municipal election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9.


But Alex Psilakis, the policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, said more might have to be done in cities and towns across the state in time for the presidential election in November to avoid the chaos that was seen during Wisconsin’s presidential primary on Tuesday, April 7. MassVOTE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to increase voter participation in Massachusetts.


“While we hope that the present crisis does not extend into the fall, we must be prepared in the case that it does,” Psilakis said. “In light of this, the state must take a number of steps to make sure that our electoral system may function in a safe, secure, accessible and inclusive manner.” He said his group is recommending the implementation of no-excuse absentee voting, expanded early voting, Election Day registration, and ensuring that each polling place is constantly cleaned.


Among the problems reported during the Wisconsin primary were long wait lines at the polls, lack of social distancing precautions, fewer poll workers, and the loss of thousands of absentee ballots. Wisconsin was the first to hold a statewide election with residents under orders to remain in quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic.


″(Wisconsin) was dealing with a number of issues showing what it’s like to hold an election during the era of coronavirus,” Psilakis said. “A lot of people who work at polls are typically elderly folks, and they are deeply concerned right now because their health is at risk, and a lot of time polling locations don’t have any PPE (personal protective equipment) and sanitizing supplies.”


Psilakis said he applauded Gardner’s decision to expand mail-in voting and move a polling location, but added he was less sure that reducing the number of hours that the polls would be open was a good idea.


“I’m hesitant to hear that voting hours will be decreased (because) we never want to see people have less time to cast a ballot,” Psilakis said. “But districts across the state have been taking different steps to ensure safe elections.”


The City Council’s decision to provide each registered voter with a prepaid return envelope for mail-in voting is another good idea, according to Psilakis.


“I haven’t seen much of that done at a state level, but that’s great,” he said. “We want to see prepaid postage included just to make the process as simple as possible. I’m 23 and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve actually used a stamp in my life. People my age don’t know exactly how to get stamps or where to get them, and the last thing you want to do is go to the post office or CVS to get stamps. So when you provide that prepaid postage you make the process easy and inclusive and accessible for everyone.”


This story originally appeared in The Gardner News. The original article can be found here: https://www.thegardnernews.com/news/20200420/as-gardner-preps-for-mayoral-elections-massvote-recommends-voting-changes-in-massachusetts

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