State to help pay for early voting

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Local election officials welcome the financial boost they are getting to help pay for early voting prior to the presidential election in November.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin announced Wednesday his office is offering grants ranging from $250 to $1,500, depending on the electorate size of the municipality to help defray the cost of having weekend voting hours at the end of October.

The 11-day early voting period includes one weekend, Oct. 29 and 30 which is optional, but several Berkshire city/town clerks plan to let registered voters cast ballots at least one of those days.

"I think the grant will incentivize clerks to have voting on Saturday and I know it means I will be open [that] Saturday," said Lenox Town Clerk Kerry Sullivan.

"We are considering Saturday," note Pittsfield City Clerk Jody Phillips. "Obviously we will be open during normal business hours."

Every city and town will be required to offer early voting in at least one location during business hours from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. State regulations give communities discretion as to whether they choose to offer early voting in evenings or on weekends. The election is on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Since early voting is for the general election — not the state primary — most local clerks are waiting until after Sept. 8 to finalize early voting plans and locations.

This fall's general election will mark the first time Massachusetts voters are able to cast their ballots before Election Day, after an elections law reform package passed in 2014 authorized an early voting period.

Early voting supporters see it as a way to expand access to the ballot, describing evening and weekend hours as crucial to accommodating voters who work, lack child care or face other obstacles in getting to the polls during traditional business hours. Some municipal officials have bristled at the expected extra cost while others have said additional wages for poll staff can be easily covered.

Williamstown Town Clerk Mary Courtney Kennedy budgeted for the anticipated added expense of early voting.

"I will hire a couple of my poll workers to assist with the early voting during peak office hours, if the demand is significant, as I will be using town hall as my early voting location," she said.

While early voting doesn't replace absentee balloting, it could result in a shift in how people vote prior to Election Day.

"My town has an average of 4,800 voters and I usually average about 525 absentee voters" Kennedy said. "Many of those absentee voters would now be early voters and I am anticipating at least an additional 300 to 400 for early voting."

In Otis, Town Clerk Lyn O'Brien isn't sure yet how early voting will shake out in her community.

"If Otis is expecting a high turnout for early voting, I am going to pay a poll worker to be in my office all day," she said. "The cost for this would be $740.00 for two weeks if needed."

For the complete early voting regulations, go online to www.sec.state.ma.us, click on elections then go to publications and scroll down to last item.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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