Voting in 2020 will look quite a bit different due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with safety measures for in-person voters and many ballots coming in by mail or hand delivered to Town Hall.
Midway through the early voting period for the Sept. 1 State Primary, the numbers of people voting is significantly down, said Watertown Town Clerk John Flynn, but thousands of mail-in ballots have come in. The primary includes the race for U.S. Senate for both Democrats and Republicans, and for the Dems there is a race for State Representative. Click on the links to see more about the candidates for the 29th Middlesex race (Pcts. 1-9) and the 10th Middlesex race (Pcts. 10-12).
Early voting began on Saturday, when 83 people came into Town Hall to vote. Sunday saw 71 voters, and Monday there were 106 ballots cast, Flynn said.
“The numbers are way down from back in February, for the March Presidential Primary,” Flynn said.
Meanwhile, requests for mail-in ballots continue to come in. The deadline is Aug. 26 for applications for vote by mail to reach the Town Clerk’s office for the State Primary, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website. The deadline for the Nov. 3 Presidential Election is Oct. 28.
Watertown has already received about 8,000 applications, Flynn said. Mail in ballots can be returned by mail, or dropped off to the Town Clerk’s office or in the Library drop off box on the side of the Town Hall closest to the Library.
With the number of people voting by mail or early, Flynn expects numbers at the polls on Election Day to be smaller than usual. The experience will be much like the early voting, with many measures to provide social distancing and other COVID-19 protection measures.
When voters arrive at the Town Clerk’s office in the basement of Town Hall, they are greeted by poll workers wearing face masks and standing behind plexiglass. If you don’t have a pen, they will give you one that goes into a “used pen” box at the end of the voting process.
After filling out the information on the envelope, and receiving a ballot, voters head across the hallway to the voting area in the Lower Hearing Room. The poll workers (also behind plexiglass with masks) let you know that they have bottles of moisteners so you don’t lick the envelope. The voting booths are six-feet apart. The same will be true on election day, and when using the four-sided booths only two sides will be used, Flynn said. For early voting, when you put the envelope in the the proper box for your precinct. Poll workers even have a tool to push the envelope in if it gets stuck.
On election day, the envelopes will not be needed. The ballots that have been received during early voting or vote by mail will be opened on the day of the election.
Sometimes ballots can be rejected by the machine for reasons such as the pen marks went outside of the bubble next to a candidate’s name. If you are there in person, you would be asked to fill out a new ballot. Flynn said if there is an issue with those ballots that came in early (in person or by mail) they will still be counted.
“It becomes a hand count,” Flynn said. “It goes into the machine, and if there is a problem it kicks out to one side. The intent of the voter is clearly there if they stray out of the bubble. If they color both (bubbles), then it is an over vote and becomes a blank (in the final tally).”
Early voting continues through Friday. The hours are Tuesday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For mail-in ballots, they must reach the Town Clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Sept. 1. During the Nov. 3 Presidential Election, they must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and reach the Town Clerk’s Office by Nov. 6.