By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – At least two area town clerks say the biggest problem they face this election season is not a feared delay in ballots arriving via the mail, but rather, a crush of them.
Indeed, even as public anxiety mounts about the efficacy of the US Postal Service, local election officials say they’re getting ballots on time. In fact, these leaders say, the current situation has them working their offices to their limits.
“This is time consuming and tedious,” Hudson Town Clerk Joan Wordell said of the current vote by mail process in a recent interview. “Now, we need more people to push the ballots out and to put the ballots in.”
While the long-standing option of absentee voting represents the scaled down blueprint for handling the current situation, people like Wordell and Westborough Town Clerk Wendy Mickel stress that their current challenge is unprecedented
In a normal year, for one, Wordell said she sees a maximum of 900 ballots through the mail. Mickel said her number is closer to 70.
For the upcoming primary election, though, both Wordell and Mickel are anticipating over 3,000 mailed in ballots.
This focus on mail means that, in addition to still providing an in person voting option, election officials are spending the weeks preceding Sept. 1 bogged down by paperwork and procedure, sending ballots out, tracking them, storing them and preparing to cast them by hand into voting machines.
“We’ve always had absentee voting by mail. And it works because there’s restrictions on who does it,” Mickel said. “…But early voting by mail is for everybody now.”
As some officials project calm about mail delays, public anger still rages over recent moves by the President Donald Trump and his administration that many perceive as attempts to undermine the Postal Service. By extension, they say, those actions could threaten the integrity of election results.
Many have spoken out in recent days while local advocates have rallied, hosting at least one “Support the USPS” demonstration in Marlborough on August 17.
In Shrewsbury, US Rep. James McGovern recently convened his own press conference outside of a USPS facility.
“This is not a partisan rant – the right to vote is sacred,” he said in his comments condemning Trump.
As controversy continues to swirl, voters seeking to ensure their votes get counted can request a ballot by mail, complete that ballot, and drop it their community’s drop box at their city or town hall.
Those who don’t want to go downtown can send their ballots back to the town by mail, tracking them via a new feature available this year. Through that tool, voters can see when ballots arrive back at their clerk’s office via the mail.
Communities are also holding early in person voting and maintaining sanitation and social distancing at regular polling places on Election Day itself to help keep in-person voters safe.
As they contend with their logistical crush, town officials are asking interested voters to request their ballots as soon as possible, rather than wait until the August 26 deadline for requests for the September 1 state primary.
That way, staff can be more certain that their ballots will arrive with time to get filled out and sent back to their offices to be counted.
“It’s the burden of the voter to get [their ballot] into the mail as soon as possible,” Wordell said.
In a year of uncertainty, confusion abounds ahead of this year’s election season. Though that has made work hard at times, Wordell and Mickel agree that their offices will be able to collaborate with local arms of the USPS to get ballots sent to and from voters.
So far, by their observations, everything is still running on time.
“I don’t think very many people understand the enormity of what goes on to hold an election,” Mickel said. “But I think we do it well in Westborough.”
Information on how to vote in the upcoming Sept. 1 elections has been gathered in the graphics below. All information is via individual town/city clerk websites. For more info, visit your local town/city clerk’s website or contact their office.
(Graphics by/Dakota Antelman)