Published in the October 20, 2016 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Early voting in Massachusetts starts Monday, Oct. 24 and runs through Friday, Nov. 4 and the hope is that early voting will make this most fundamental of rights more convenient than ever for citizens to exercise.
Early voting will begin in Massachusetts for the first time in this presidential election and then continue for every state election, every other year. Early voting will take place every other year when there’s a state election, whether it’s a presidential year or governor’s race, (2018).
Early voting will not apply to local elections, special elections and primaries. It is specifically geared to November state elections.
In North Reading, early voting will take place in town hall, 235 North St. Voting will take place in Room 5, which is the room next to the Town Clerk’s office, which will allow Stats and her office staff to be available to assist the election workers who will be manning the early voting.
Registered voters can vote early in town hall during the building’s regular business hours: Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For public convenience, North Reading has decided to offer additional voting hours outside of regular business hours. Town hall will stay open from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 and Saturday, Oct. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This will provide more opportunity for voters to participate in the process because there will definitely be more parking available at town hall after hours and on weekends. Stats said there will be a police detail on duty during the expanded hours for security but not during regular business hours during the day.
The new early voting system presents a greater opportunity for voters to take advantage of advanced voting, (other than absentee voting), Town Clerk Barbara Stats said. Under the law to qualify for absentee voting a resident must have one of three reasons: he or she will be absent from the city, town or state on election day; he or she has a physical disability or a religious belief that precludes them from voting.
The difference is that early voting is really “no excuse” absentee voting, said Stats. “You don’t have to have an excuse under the law. That will give more people the opportunity to take part in this process,” she said.
Some states have already started early voting and it’s not new throughout the country. But this will be its shakedown cruise in Massachusetts. The law was written to allow the Secretary of State’s office a lot of flexibility but the dates, times and location are set under statute.
Early voting process
The process for early voting will go like this: the voter will check in and will receive a ballot and envelope. After voting, the ballot will be sealed, similar to an absentee ballot. The ballots will be stored at town hall, in the vault, until election day. The ballots will be processed at the polls and counted on election day, the same as absentee voting.
There will be an overlap period between early voting and absentee voting. Stats said absentee voting will start as soon as her office receives the ballots, there’s no set time frame. She noted it will probably be cleaner and more efficient for residents who come into her office during the crossover period to do early voting rather than absentee.
This is a new process in North Reading, as it is in every city and town in the state, and Stats and her staff are ready to make the most of it. “We know it will be a work in progress, so we will be reviewing it every day to make sure it works as efficiently as possible,” she said.