United Independent Party enrollment thwarted some at polls in Berkshires, statewide

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PITTSFIELD — Not every voter who went to the polls on Tuesday was able to cast a ballot for their choice for president.

That's because the person's voter registration status did not allow them to vote in the party primary in which their candidate was competing — normally a problem for a few voters, local clerks said, but one compounded this year because of the appearance of the new United Independent Party.

North Adams Clerk Marilyn Gomeau said a few city voters showed up wanting to cast ballots in one of the major party contests only to learn that they were registered as a UIP voter and could only receive that ballot, which had no candidates listed.

"They insisted that they were not registered with a party," she said, adding that "it was very unfortunate when that happened," but the problem affected some voters across the state, not only in North Adams.

Secretary of State William Galvin had issued a statement in January, notifying people who had registered as UIP members that they would have to change to "unenrolled" status or to Democratic, Republican or Green/Rainbow Party status prior to the presidential primary in order to receive one of the other ballots.

Election officials had noted that, because the UIP has the word "independent" in its name, many new voters checked that selection when they registered to vote, thinking that gave them independent status and the ability to choose which primary to vote in.

The secretary of state sent out post cards to some 20,000 registered members of the UIP, notifying them of the requirement if they wanted to vote in another primary on March 1. Evan Falchuk, the UIP candidate for governor in 2014, when the party received more than 3 percent of the total vote to qualify for ballot status, also put out statements to UIP members notifying them of the potential problem.

Gomeau and other Berkshire County clerks said most of the UIP members subsequently changed their voter status in person or online on the secretary of state's website, but a few who had not changed tried to vote on Tuesday.

A voter contacted The Eagle on Wednesday to say they had been prevented from voting in North Adams, but Gomeau said they likely were told they could not vote outside of the UIP ballot because of their status.

She urged anyone who is unsure of their status to check with their local clerk's office or on the state website in advance of the September primary for state legislative and congressional party nominations.

Williamstown Clerk Mary C. Kennedy said Thursday that approximately 1,000 residents were at one time registered as voters with the UIP but that most — following the secretary of state's notification — had switched to another party or to unenrolled status prior to the Massachusetts primary. One person did arrive at the polls still registered with the UIP, she said.

"People, when they registered to vote, new voters, saw that word 'independent,' and they thought they were choosing independent status," she said.

"Our problem was people who didn't want anyone to know what party they voted for," Kennedy said, requiring election officials to explain that each party has its own ballot so the party name, though not the candidate selected, would be recorded.

"It was a strange election," she said.

Pittsfield Clerk Jody Phillips said the city had only a few voters arrive who were registered with the UIP but she heard no complaints. She reminded residents that they should check their registration status with the city registrar of voters office or online more than 20 days prior to the September primary.

In Great Barrington, Clerk Marie Ryan said there were a few who showed up registered as UIP members and restricted to that ballot, and about 10 town voters remain registered as members of that party.

"Some were a little disappointed," she said, "but there weren't too many.

During most elections, she said a few people will arrive to vote in a primary but learn they are still registered with another party and therefore restricted to that ballot.

The secretary of state's website is at www.sec.state.ma.us/index.htm

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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