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Making (sure) it counts

Early voters cite concerns over COVID, mail delays

By Julie Manganis and Christian Wade Staff Writers

SALEM —  Alison and Brian Thibodeau had just left church and were on their way to run an errand at Walmart when they noticed the sign for early voting at Salem High School on Sunday afternoon. 

The couple, who live in Ward 4, had been planning to vote early, but were not looking forward to a trip to downtown Salem during October. 

"This is the most important election in my lifetime," said Brian, who is 70. Neither wanted to leave anything to chance. 

"I'm so happy," said Alison. "We're spared from going downtown." 

The couple were among the 948 registered voters who took advantage of early voting over the weekend at two locations in Salem, Salem High School and City Hall Annex. 

"I wanted to give people options," said Salem City Clerk Ilene Simons. "A lot of people want to make sure that it is in our possession." 

Secretary of State Bill Galvin said every city and town will have at least one early voting station available during regular business hours, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, from Oct. 17-30. He said the 14 days of pre-election balloting gives voters plenty of options to avoid crowds.

And turnout is projected to be high, with contests for president, the House and Senate, and local House and Senate, as well as two ballot questions. 

"Because of voter enthusiasm, the first day of early voting is often the busiest day," Galvin said in a statement. "If you want to vote at a time when there will be fewer people around, weekday voting is also available."

Voters outside polling locations in Salem and Peabody said the opportunity to vote early - in person - appealed to them in a time where the postal service is facing cutbacks. 

"Everywhere you're hearing about mail and packages arriving late," sayd Haydee Rad of Peabody outside the Torigian Senior Center on Central Street Sunday afternoon. 

Annmarie Rad said that, and concerns about COVID-19, led her to vote early and in person. "In case we get sick, I didn't want to miss my chance to vote."

She said it made her feel better to see her ballot go into the box herself. 

In Salem, Brian and Jennifer Carr voted in person at Salem High School Sunday afternoon. Brian said he liked not having to wait in line or miss work on Election Day, but also said he has concerns about using the mail. "It just seemed like with all the rhetoric, I preferred to do it in person." 

Both said they were "pleasantly surprised" to be in and out in under five minutes. 

Mary Bramante of Salem said she voted early to reduce her risk of contracting COVID-19. "I didn't want to be waiting in line," said Bramante. "I think it was a good idea."

Joy Carrier, who has a 2-month-old at home, said there was no way she was going to skip this election. "With all that has happened in the last four years, I don't want to see it extended for another four years." She took the opportunity to vote at Salem High while her husband was home on a Sunday afternoon. 

Simons, the Salem City Clerk, said she wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to vote early could get to the polls. Salem's unique challenge - the crowds that flock to downtown Salem each October - led her to set up the second location at Salem High School for the two weekends that early voting is being offered (during the week, early voting will exclusively take place at City Hall Annex.)

"What if the police had to close a street for an emergency?" she thought. 

At one point on Saturday morning, the line at the City Hall Annex stretched about a block, down to Lynde Street, but she heard no complaints. None of the voters interviewed Sunday by The Salem News had to wait more than a couple of minutes. 

The contentious race between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden is expected to drive a record turnout.

Galvin estimates overall turnout will exceed 3.3 million, including about 1 million people who are expected to vote on Election Day.

Nearly 30% of the state's 4.5 million registered voters have already cast ballots.

As of Friday, nearly 1.7 million mail-in ballots had been sent to voters who requested them, and 480,000 had been submitted to local election clerks, according to Galvin's office.

Early voting, which was first introduced in Massachusetts ahead of the 2016 presidential election, has grown increasingly popular as it has been expanded.

During the Sept. 1 state primary, which saw a record turnout of more than 1.7 million voters, about 100,000 ballots were cast early.

"What we've seen, particularly during the outbreak, is voters are clearly taking advantage of these expanded options to vote early or by mail," said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, a non-partisan group that works on voter outreach. "It's only a minority of voters who come out on Election Day."

Early voting locations are required to be set up with enough space for social distancing. Election workers will wear masks and protective equipment, and limit crowding inside voting locations. Workers will keep surfaces and equipment sanitized.

Information about early voting locations can be found here: www.MassEarlyVote.com.

This story originally appeared on Salem News.com Check it out here!


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