Health concerns, increased absentee voting, budget savings driving proposal, says Town Clerk
Selectmen on Monday night will consider a suggestion by the Town Clerk to shorten polling hours for the upcoming Town Elections, as more people are expected to vote this year by absentee ballot.
The town’s annual elections, which are traditionally held on the final Saturday in April, have been moved to Tuesday, June 23, as a result of public health concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols that have nearly shuttered the state’s economy and curtailed many day-to-day activities since March are expected to be slowly lifted in the weeks leading up to the election.
Special legislation gave municipal Boards of Registrars the power to postpone springtime municipal elections. In Abington, the Board of Selectmen have the power to set the hours the polls will be open.
Town Clerk Leanne Adams has asked Selectmen to consider having the polls open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Polls traditionally open to in-person voters starting at 8 a.m.
Adams said the request has nothing to do with Selectmen appearing likely to schedule the town’s Annual Town Meeting on Monday, June 22, the night before Town Elections. As Town Clerk, Adams’ Town Meeting responsibilities include preparing a list of residents eligible to vote at the meeting, checking in attendees, and taking meeting minutes.
“It has its challenges,” Adams said about having Town Meeting and Town Elections both within 24 hours, “but if that’s what’s asked of me, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Her request instead is based on concerns around safety for her poll workers, the liklihood of increased absentee voting, as well as possibly saving the town some money during a period when budgets are tightening. Acting Town Manager Scott Lambiase told selectmen this past Monday night he may be announcing a hiring and spending freeze this coming week.
Adams said it takes between 30 and 40 poll workers to coordinate and hold town elections. The vast majority of poll workers are senior citizens, who are considered among the most vulnerable populations for the virus. Seniors also historically make up a disproportionate amount of those who cast ballots.
With a push on to have additional people vote by absentee ballot this year, Adams said she’s concerned about having so many poll workers in the one room for an extended period of time, particularly if turnout is even lower than usual.
Last year, just 900 Abington residents voted on Election Day. Another 54 voted by absentee ballot. Poll workers make between $10-12 per hour.
“Other towns are cutting back, too,” said Adams, who said she mentioned the idea to Lambiase, who asked her to make it a formal request for the board to consider.
The proposal to shorten polling hours received a mixed response, at least on the town’s social media pages. Some advocated for more people to vote absentee and to fill-in for the town’s usual poll workers. Others insisted the town keep the hours their same and some argued expanded absentee voting will lead to questionable results.
Abington News has reached out to each of the five candidates running for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen. We will update this article as they respond.
Town Elections this year will be held at Emerald Hall, the Central Street reception hall that served as the town’s polling location while the new middle/high school was being built. Selectmen voted to move town elections from the middle/high school gymnasium back to Emerald Hall after receiving complaints from voters that the gymnasium was too far away from parking areas. Adams said there is no cost difference between the two facilities.
Ballots are being printed and voters will be able to request absentee ballots soon, Adams said.
The number one concern should be the safety of the workers and the voters. The town needs to follow all the safety measures the same as the retail establishments in town. (Plexiglas shield in front of the checkers, face masks, limit number of people in building, sanitizing the polling booths etc). If the workers don’t feel comfortable working the polls they should be allowed to sit this one out.
As far as the election date, I am not sure why it is being held on a Tuesday rather than a Saturday. But because it is on a Tuesday that is the main reason the hours should not be shortened, if anything the hours should be extended. Some people vote on their way to work and a 10:00 AM opening of the poll does not allow them to do that. Also a 6:00 PM closing does not give sufficient time for Boston workers to vote after work. If we were voting on a Saturday these problems are eliminated. But I am also encouraging anyone that is not comfortable in physically going to the polls, to vote absentee.I don’t think that shortening the polling hours by 2 hours is giving the poll workers extra protection.
As for “saving money”. Maybe we should use one of our own facilities and not rent a facility every time. If we just built a $90M school that apparently “can’t” be used for voting we need to take a hard look at why and see what we can do to fix that.
If we approach things with caution and common sense, there is no reason to vary much from previous years elections. The current list of poll workers should be surveyed on how they feel about working during the current pandemic. Anyone with concerns would be more than welcome to abstain from working this time around and be replaced by one of the many volunteers I have seen offering to help via social media. This, along with the current social distancing guidelines and mask wearing should allow for an election where all citizens can feel safe while carrying out their civic duty.
I would also like to add I disagree with the shortened voting hours as I feel it might exclude those who may be already or soon to be returning to their employment.
Susan Ferreira Emery
I feel that these are unprecedented times. We all have to do what we have to do. With that in mind, and knowing that some of our residents either don’t have access to a computer or access to a printer, I called town hall last week and asked for the Absentee ballot application. I have already given a lot out and I did save one so that I can print more if needed.
I think the option of voting absentee may be the solution for those who can not make it to the polls for whatever reason.