Ed note: In a normal election year, the mechanics of running an election, including tabulating ballots, is taken for granted and unremarkable. But due to the pandemic triggering a huge increase in mail-in ballots and the unfortunate politicizing of the process itself, all good Groton citizens need to understand the process, understand the need to turn in ballots as soon as possible, and thus help Town Clerk Mike Bouchard deliver timely vote totals on election night.
by Connie Sartini
Town Clerk Mike Bouchard provided an in-depth overview of the operational plans that the Town of Groton has put in place for the November 3 Presidential Election through an online webinar on October 6.
He stressed that those wishing to register to vote need to do so ahead of time with the deadline for registration set at October 24. He added that this applies to people not currently registered to vote in Groton. Those who have recently moved to Groton or have changed address in Groton will need to register by the deadline. Those who are turning 18 on or before November 3 (Election Day) also need to register by the October 24 deadline.
Three ways to register to vote in Groton:
1. Town Clerk’s office;
2. Completing a Massachusetts voter registration mail in form (available from the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office or “google”); and
3. Register online at https:// www.sec.state. ma.us/ovr/ (Massachusetts online voter registration). You must be a US Citizen to register to vote. You must have a valid Massachusetts Driver’s License to register online.
Once a person has done this, Bouchard advised these applicants to look for an acknowledgement letter from the Office of the Town Clerk.
Three ways to vote in Groton
1. Early Vote by mail;
2. Early vote in person at the Town Hall from October 17 through October 30, including on two Saturdays – October 17 and October 24 -- from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and on Sundays – October 18 and October 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
3. In person on Election Day.
• For Precinct 1 – the Senior Center in West Groton; and
• Precincts 2 and 3, the Middle School on Main Street on the left-hand side of the campus. Precincts 2 and 3 will vote at the Middle School for the November 3 election only.
Bouchard said that in past Presidential elections, Groton has seen close to a 90 percent turnout of voters. With more than 8500 registered voters, well over 7,000 voters are expected to vote in this election.
He cautioned voters that not only are there candidates’ names on the ballot, but also two initiative petition questions on the ballot, with one of those questions located on the backside of the ballot. He added that voters should look at the Massachusetts “Information For Voters” brochure (red cover) that residents received in the mail for details on the two ballot questions.
How the vote is counted
Bouchard explained the method used to count votes. In the November 3 election, ballots cast that day are deposited in the ballot machine by the voter. These ballots are tabulated and the totals run after the close of polls. If, during the day, the machine cannot read a ballot, it is separated to be counted by hand after the polls close.
Early ballots are sealed in an envelope, which is signed by the voter for verification. Early ballots are processed during the Advance Processing period, but not tabulated until after the close of polls on November 3.
Advance Processing is a significant change from past years. The Commonwealth of Mass. has issued regulations for the advance processing of ballots prior to election day.
“Rather than try to process 4,000 ballots on Election Day, under the state statue, we can start on October 26 (through October 31) at 9 a.m.to deposit the mail-in and early voting ballots into a tabulator.
“One team checks in the ballots that are matched to the registered voter. Then they open the ballot and put it in the tabulator machine, but it cannot be tabulated until election night.”
Bouchard said, “This process (Advance Processing) has never been available before. It is approved by the State. The process is a controlled methodical way” to do this.
Because elefction workers open the ballots, Bouchard was asked if they could see how a person voted. “We encourage our workers not to look at the name to see how they voted, and have a best practice to minimize this. It is generally one person opening the ballot envelopes to be deposited into the tabulator. Technically, they could see how a person voted, but as a practical matter, there is a lot of other work for the election workers to do and it is discouraged.”
When is a ballot be rejected?
Bouchard pointed out that ballots can be rejected for good reasons. Some mail-in ballots are submitted without being enclosed in the ballot secrecy envelope. “We cannot accept a ballot not sealed in a secrecy envelope or if a secrecy envelope is not signed. If either circumstance occurs, the ballot is rejected and the voter is notified.
“At the polls or at Early Voting In Person, if your name is not on the voter list, it’s a problem. It might be that you are trying to vote in the wrong precinct or you are not registered to vote. If the issue cannot be resolved, the Warden will offer you a provisional ballot, with paperwork that both the voter and warden sign. The Town Clerk will take the provisional ballot package and research it within a few days of the election. If a mistake happened, the ballot is counted, and If not, we cannot count it. Either way, the voter is notified.”
When is the final count available?
The final tally for the election should be available between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. Once the polls close at 8 p.m., the totals are run including the advanced processing votes. The tabulation machines and ballots are taken back to the Town Hall and the results posted on the Town Website.
Bouchard stressed that there is a later “date for overseas voters where, if postmarked by election day and received by November 13, these votes are counted. So the final, final vote will be available on November 18.”
Counted ballots are placed in sealed containers that are kept for 22
Poll watchers and "electioneering"
Bouchard talked about “poll watchers” who typically work for a campaign, and are allowed to stand in marked areas near the check in / check out tables. They have a right to hear the names of the voter. It is the election workers job to repeat the name of the voter, however, the poll workers cannot ask any questions or disrupt the process in any way.
There is also the state law that requires "electioneering" can only be done outside the 150-foot markers, where people are typically holding signs. Inside the polling location, no hats, buttons or tee-shirts with campaign information are allowed as it is
against the state law.
Bouchard closed the program, “This is a complicated set of projects. We encourage everyone to get ballots in early. Please don’t delay and please vote.”
If you would like to view the full webinar, visit http://schedulethegrotonchannel. org/CablecastPublicSite/sch edule channel=5¤tD ay=2020-10-06. Scroll down to the 6 p.m. slot – "All About Voting in Groton for the November Election – 2020" and press the right arrow to start the video.