By Ann Needle
Until now, the advice to “vote early and often” was simply a political wisecrack. Now, the state makes that adage a lot less of a pun with its new early voting system. In Stow, that means voters can cast their ballots for the Nov. 8 election as early as Oct. 24. The early voting option closes on Nov. 4.
To vote early, Stow Town Clerk Linda Hathaway said residents must simply drop by her office at the Town Building during normal business hours. These are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Oct. 25, and 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29.
After checking in at the Clerk’s office, Hathaway said early voters then will fill out their ballots in the Whitney Room, then hand their ballots in an envelope to one of the two election workers the town hired for early voting days. Compared with voting at the Center School polls, Hathaway observed, “The only things that are different are you fill out the ballot, then put it in the envelope and hand it to an election worker; there’s no checking out.” She added that early ballots are not opened by the town until Election Day.
Also new is the option to vote early by mail. Download the form to vote early at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/EarlyVotingWeb/EarlyVotingSearch.aspx), and mail it to the clerk’s office at 380 Great Rd. The office will mail ballots starting Oct. 24.
Hathaway mentioned that the law—passed by the state legislature in 2014 — does not apply to primaries and local elections, for now.
“I really don’t know how many people to expect,” said Hathaway of this first early-voting election. “Election day, to me, is a party, I plan for 5,000 to show up. Early voting is like planning a party and not knowing who’s going to show up. We could have no one, we could have a line. People just have to patient, it’s a new thing.”
Early versus Absent
Outside of the formal polls of Election Day, some voters already have the option of casting their ballots through absentee balloting. Residents can do that if they can prove they will be out of town on election day, or have another reason — such as illness — why they cannot make it to the polls. Hathaway pointed out that any registered voter can vote early, regardless of whether they can make it to Center on Nov. 8.
Based on past elections, Hathaway predicted around 10 percent of registered voters will cast absentee ballots. About 490 absentee ballots were submitted from Stow in the 2012 presidential election, with another 85 percent of registered voters going to the polls, she reported.
Given that the clerks cannot mail out early ballots until Oct. 24 anyway, Hathaway maintained that replacing the absentee set-up with early voting for some (outside of those who physically cannot get to the polls) that could begin even sooner might be less confusing for everyone. “The only thing different with early voting is there is not an application.”
Regardless of how residents choose to vote, the first step is to make sure they are registered to do so by the end of the day on Oct. 19, Hathaway said. She noted that voters may register by dropping by her office, or online at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ovr/.
In the past, some would-be voters have arrived at the polls only to find they are no longer registered. Hathaway explained that this could happen to residents who have not voted in the past few elections and also do not return their annual census forms, which are mailed to each Stow household in January. While these cases are usually resolved when these voters show up at Center, Hathaway remarked, “Those are the things that cause angst, because voters are very sensitive to their rights.”
Even if they never encounter a snag in voting, Hathaway urged voters to cherish their right.
Hathaway spoke of a Stow resident she met one year at the polls, who had immigrated to the U.S. “She told me, ‘You don know how meaningful it is to me to be able to do this.’” Still, Hathaway did not have to be convinced, reminiscing that “my grandfather [Frannie Warren] was town clerk for a number of years. He used to quote, ‘If you don’t participate, I don’t want any of your complaints.’”