Pittsfield sends out thousands of mail-in, absentee ballots

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PITTSFIELD — Primary ballots are on the way for city residents who have decided to participate in the new no-excuse vote-by-mail option.

Election workers hustled over the weekend to process applications, and the city shipped 4,000 early voting mail-in ballots to voters Monday, according to City Clerk Michele Benjamin.

The mass mailing represents the majority of the 5,555 residents to date. Some were sent last week.

"By the end of the week, people are going to start to see the early voting ballots in their mailboxes," Benjamin said.

She also noted that about 300 absentee ballots were mistakenly sent out without return postage, and those voters will receive a replacement prepaid envelope.

The state has been sending applications for mail-in ballots to all Massachusetts voters this year to encourage election participation during the coronavirus pandemic. Mail-in voting works much the same as voting absentee ballot, but it does not require voters to give an excuse for why they can't make it to a physical polling place. 

The two options are running in tandem this year, and Benjamin said her office had sent out 327 absentee ballots by the start of the week. Massachusetts is covering the cost of postage for all absentee and mail-in ballots, and a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth said they should come with pre-addressed and prepaid return envelopes.

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Benjamin acknowledged the error in which 306 absentee voters received their ballots with return envelopes that call for one or more postage stamps.

After being contacted by a voter Monday, Benjamin immediately alerted the Secretary of State's Office. She said those affected absentee voters will receive a replacement pre-addressed, prepaid envelope in the mail. And she assured voters that their absentee ballots still will be delivered to her office in either envelope, whether stamped or not.

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"Inadvertently, some of the old envelopes got mixed with the new envelopes and went out, so, just to cover our bases, we're sending out to all of the voters who requested an absentee ballot another envelope right now," she said.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State William Galvin's office noted that the U.S. Postal Service has been instructed not to return any official election mail to its sender.

"Instead, if there is insufficient postage, they [the Postal Service] are to deliver the ballots and bill our office for the necessary postage," spokesperson Debra O'Malley said in an email.

O'Malley said her office was aware of the envelope situation and instructed the city's Board of Registrars office to go over their absentee voter lists and follow up where necessary.

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"Unfortunately, in the city's haste to get these ballots in the mail, they sent those absentee ballots out before they received their new postage pre-paid envelopes and they are working to correct the error now," O'Malley wrote.

Benjamin said it took longer than expected for the state to acquire the prepaid envelopes, which, in turn, were slow to arrive in the city, which she could understand, given how it is "under the gun" to respond to an expansion of voting by mail ahead of the Sept. 1 primary.

The state at the same time instructed communities to begin mailing ballots to voters as soon as possible, she said, adding that "this happened throughout the whole state, not just Pittsfield."

City Hall already has received about a dozen absentee ballots returned in an old envelope, unstamped, Benjamin said, some through the mail and others in the secure drop box at City Hall.

"If voters don't feel secure mailing their ballot back, they can drop it in our secure drop box," she said, adding that only her office and the Treasurer's Department have a key to the drop box.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.


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