Medford readies for new voting regulations due to pandemic
By Alexander Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org
Like their counterparts around the commonwealth, city officials in Medford are gearing up for the unprecedented challenges that come with conducting an election during a pandemic.
On July 4, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law broad changes to plans for the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election, affecting everything from mail-in voting to registration.
Under the new law, the commonwealth’s secretary of state, William Galvin, will mail an absentee ballot application to all voters registered on July 1 by July 15. Voters will receive absentee applications for the general election by Sept. 14.
The law also requires seven days of early voting for the primary, set to run from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28. It increases early voting for the general election from 10 to 14 days.
The law moves back the voter registration deadline to Aug. 22 for the primary and Oct. 24 for the general, allows city officials to consolidate the number of in-person polling places to one and permits people who are under quarantine to designate someone else to pick up and deliver their absentee ballot.
Alex Psilakis, the communications director at MassVOTE, a voter advocacy group, said the measures will help avoid the chaos seen in other recent elections like Wisconsin’s April primary that featured last-minute polling location closures, long lines, and confusion. More than 50 coronavirus cases were later linked to the election, the AP reported.
“We’re really hoping that by spreading out the amount of time people have to vote and how they vote will limit interactions and limit the ability of Covid-19 to spread,” he said.
Psilakis praised the law as a “good step” towards ensuring a free and fair election, though MassVOTE advocated for lawmakers to require the secretary of state to send ballots to all registered voters rather than just applications.
Because they did not, MassVOTE expects a steep increase in absentee ballot applications.
Psilakis estimated that at least 50% to as much as 75% of voters will vote-by-mail in the primary, up from just 3 to 5% in previous years.
“When that massive uptick occurs, it’s the local elections officials, the town and city clerks that have to process all of these absentee ballots, and because they’re processing 20 times more than ever, applications fall through the cracks,” he said.
Psilakis called on voters to turn in their applications as soon as possible and for municipalities to hire more staff so that the application processing moves quickly.
City preps for elections
Medford is hard at work preparing for all the changes, City Clerk Adam Hurtubise, who oversees elections, said.
“I’m fully confident that our team will plan and execute full, fair and transparent elections in both September and November,” Hurtubise wrote in an email.
The clerk is already processing ballot requests, and said that if necessary, his office will bring in more staff.
“We’ll be carefully monitoring the volume of ballot requests and responding as necessary,” he wrote.
The elections team also intends to rent two high-speed tabulators that will accelerate the counting process, allowing the city to publish results in a timely manner even with more paper ballots to count.
Thanks to recent recruitment drives, Hurtubise said the city will have adequate numbers off poll workers for the primary and the general. The office receives several new requests each week and will conduct trainings before both elections.
“We’re confident that we will be adequately staffed for both elections, and that we will have available poll workers in reserve in case of any late cancellations,” he wrote.
Medford will not consolidate polling locations, although a polling station normally located in Lawrence Memorial Hospital will be relocated. Hurtubise will propose a new location to the City Council at a July meeting and notify the precinct’s voters by mail and reverse 911.
Henry Milorin, president of the Medford Democratic City Committee, is confident the election will run smoothly as long as Medford officials are ready.
“Elections officials need to do the prep for this election. They need to get ready right now,” he said.
Candidates too need to adapt to the realities of campaigning in a pandemic, Milorin said.
Traditional tactics like canvassing and in-person town halls are out, shifting the emphasis to social media and live streams.
That shift brings certain advantages, Milord said. Virtual events can be more accessible than in-person events for low income individuals and the elderly who can join them by phone or computer without taking the time or money to travel.
“Being online has a tremendous benefit to you, if you do it right,” he said.
This story originally appeared on Medford Wicked Local.com Check it out here.