Town Council Looking for Ways to Make Early Voting Work More Smoothly

Print More

Early voting was a hit in Watertown during the Presidential Election, but the influx of people sometimes overwhelmed the staff of the Clerk’s office. The Town Council began looking for ways for it to work better next time.

There were 5,855 early votes cast, with another 796 and 86 e-voters – military service men and women and others who qualify, Town Clerk John Flynn told the Town Council’s State, Federal and Regional Government Committee Tuesday night. That made up 36 percent of the votes cast.

That well exceeded the number Flynn expected to see.

“In my mind I expected 2,000 to 2,200,” Flynn said. “I was not expecting nearly 6,000.”

The flow of voters over the two weeks was steady and at times there were lines out the door and down the hallway. Debbie Dugan, one of the Election Commissioners, said she too was amazed by the numbers. They also had to do their daily business.

“It was a wonderful experience for the voters of Watertown. They were very happy to have the opportunity to vote early,” Dugan said. “We were shocked by the numbers. The staff was burdened. In the future we would recommend other (staff) be brought in. They were definitely short of man power.”

After a few days, Flynn did bring in poll workers to help hand out the envelopes and ballots to voters, along with secretarial staff from the Town Manager’s office and the Auditor’s office. Some of the work, however must be done by the staff, such as marking that a person has voted early on the list of voters. This can only be done in the computer system linked to the Secretary of State’s office, and Flynn said only four computers have that link.

Early voting must take place in the building where the Town Clerk’s office is located, Flynn said, but it does not need to be in that office.

Town Auditor Tom Tracy said he would like to look at ways to make the lines move quicker.

“The flow needs to be worked on,” Tracy said.

One problem was people had to wait in line at the Clerk’s office to get the ballot, go across the hall to vote, and the return to the Clerk’s office to hand the ballot and envelope back. Plus the Clerk’s office only has one door for the public.

Tracy suggested moving some of the computers with the voting list over to the Lower Hearing Room, where people filled out their ballots.

The voting process is not only the voting part, but also processing the ballot, said Election Commissioner Bonnie Baronowski. She noted that there was only a short time between the Friday when early voting ended and Election Day.

“The time where there could be some additional help is over that weekend (before Election Day),” Baronowski said. “Early voting really crammed that time together.”

Early voting only takes place during state general elections, and the next one will be in November 2018, Flynn said, when residents will vote for governor and the U.S. Senator.

Town Councilor Ken Woodland said despite the craziness, he thought early voting was a success.

“I am proud to be in a state that is expanding access to voting at a time when a lot of states are not,” Woodland said. “And I am proud to be in Watertown where we welcomed this.”

The committee voted to have the Clerk and the Election Commission come up with recommendations for how to make early voting run more smoothly and to add additional staff during that time. They also voted to explore what resources would be needed to expand the voting hours, including possibly on the weekend during the early voting period.

One thought on “Town Council Looking for Ways to Make Early Voting Work More Smoothly

  1. One recommendation would be to offer high school students community service hours to help the staff out during the busy voting times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *