By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — On Monday night, Town Clerk Susan Duplin updated the Select Board on the procedures in place for the town’s voters to participate in the upcoming state primary in September and state election in November.
These will be the second and third elections overseen by Duplin since she was hired this past winter after the retirement of Barbara Stats, who was town clerk for 24 years. Duplin oversaw the annual town election on May 3 but early voting was not play for that election. The state legislature has since made many changes to the voting process, such as making no-excuse required mail-in ballot applications and voting permanent, and requiring early in-person voting options.
Each community can set its own hours during the early voting period within the prescribed dates to be held ahead of the actual election day. Cities and towns are also mandated to make some of these sessions available to voters on evenings and weekends.
Early voting schedule for primary
In North Reading, Duplin told the board, early in-person voting for the Tuesday, September 6 primary begins in town on Saturday, August 27 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the gymnasium at North Reading Town Hall, 235 North St. for all four precincts.
Subsequent early in-person voting dates and times for the primary election will be held as follows, all in the gymnasium at Town Hall:
- Monday, Aug. 29: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Tuesday, Aug. 30: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Wednesday, Aug. 31: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Thursday, Sept. 1: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Friday, Sept. 2: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Election Day voting
On Election Day for the state primary, which is Tuesday, September 6, the town’s centralized polling location will return to the parish hall at St. Theresa Church, 51 Winter St. All four precincts will vote here. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Duplin also noted that the ballot drop off box for mail-in ballots is always locked at 8 p.m. on Election Day, in sync with the same time the polls close.
The early voting period for the state election on Tuesday, Nov. 8 has been set statewide for Saturday, Oct. 22 – Friday, Nov. 4 for the Tuesday, Nov. 8 state election. The actual daily schedule in North Reading was not specified on Monday night but is likely to be similar to the primary dates and take place at Town Hall while Election Day voting on Nov. 8 will return to St. Theresa parish hall.
Mail-in ballot applications
Duplin told the board that all voters in town who were registered to vote by July 8 this year should have received the postcard from the secretary of the commonwealth’s office for mail-in ballot applications. This application gives voters the option to have ballots mailed to them for a specific election in 2022 or all elections in 2022, of which there are two this year, (the state primary and the state election).
However, if they did not receive this postcard they can simply write a letter with their request, which must be signed with their signature, to the Town Clerk’s office and either mail it or drop it off in person at the counter or in the red, white and blue ballot box outside the main entrance of Town Hall. An application is available on the town website (www.northreadingma.gov) that takes you to the state website but an official application is not necessary. “It could be written on a napkin,” she said.
For those voters who are unenrolled without a party affiliation they must specify which party’s ballot they want mailed to them on the application. This year, there are only two choices – Democrat or Republican – for the primary. Those who are enrolled in the Democrat or Republican party will automatically receive their party’s ballot.
Unenrolled voters automatically revert back to their unenrolled status after the primary in Massachusetts.
When voters fail to declare their choice on their application, Duplin said she or a member of her staff must contact that voter to find out what ballot they want by whatever means of contact they have been provided by the voter – phone, email or regular mail.
Mail-in ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on the fifth business day prior to each Election Day. This year, those dates are Monday, Aug. 29 for the state primary and Monday, Nov. 1 for the state election.
Sign the envelope!
Two other crucial points Duplin wanted to emphasize with regard to mail-in ballots were that voters must sign their name on the outside of the envelope of their mail-in ballot or it cannot be accepted by them, and voters cannot bring their mail-in ballot to the actual polls on Election Day.
Voters who wait to cast their mail-in ballot until Election Day and show up at the polls with it will be directed to go to Town Hall at 235 North Street to hand it to a staff person at the counter of the Town Clerk’s office as mail-in ballots must be tracked from start to finish. The voter can also deposit their mail-in ballot into the ballot drop box (located outside near the main front door) prior to it being locked at 8 p.m.
Select Board Chairwoman Kate Manupelli noted that while many people feel uncomfortable signing their sealed envelope on an early ballot because voting to them is a private matter and they do not want election officials to know how they voted, she stressed that the early voting process is a “massive undertaking” and poll workers are not tracking how an individual voted.
Duplin agreed. “I could care less who voted how,” she said. “You open them up and turn them over… your ballots are safe and secure with us.”
If the ballot is not sealed and signed the entire envelope and contents must be mailed back to the voter, Duplin said.
The state law governing how mail-in and early voted ballots are counted is also clear on this point. Per Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s website: “All ballot counting takes place in public. Ballots will only be removed from their envelopes during public counting sessions at central tabulation facilities and at polling places on Election Day.”
Three votes taken
On Monday night, the Select Board took three votes related to the upcoming election, all of which passed 4-0 by Manupelli and members Stephen O’Leary, Liane Gonzalez and Rich Wallner. Select Board member Vincenzo Stuto was absent as he is on paternity leave following the birth of his fourth child last Friday.
The votes taken by the board were to sign the state primary warrant; appoint the list of election officers from the list submitted by the town’s Board of Registrars, as recommended by the Registrars for elections held between Sept. 1, 2022 and Aug. 31, 2023; and to approve the “North Reading Elections Operations Plan” dated July 20, 2022 which spells out the number of police officers present at the polls on Election Day.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto pointed out that the Elections Operations Plan document provided by Chief of Police Michael Murphy codifies the policies that have been in place at the town’s polls for many years but under the state election law changes approved by the legislature this year such operations plans must be put in writing and approved.