Published in the August 2, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — When early voting goes into effect with the November election, Wakefield will be ready.
Local voters will be able to cast their ballots at Town Hall as early as 11 business days before the official Nov. 8 Election Day, said Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran, who oversees elections in Wakefield. This year, the early voting period will begin on Monday, Oct. 24 and end on Friday Nov. 4.
In 2014, Massachusetts passed an election reform law allowing early voting every two years in the November election. Early voting will not apply to the upcoming state primary election, nor will it apply to municipal elections.
According to the text of the law, “Qualified voters may vote early in person at the designated early voting location or by mail. A voter may only vote early by mail or at an early voting location for the city or town in which he or she is registered to vote.”
The law states that early voting “shall be conducted within the usual business hours of each local election official.” However, a city or town may choose to provide for additional early voting hours beyond what is required, including weekend hours.
Sheeran indicated that in Wakefield early voting will be available during the Town Clerk’s regular business hours: Monday – Wednesday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Thursday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.; and Friday, 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
The law provides less flexibility with regard to the location where early voting may take place. The early voting site must be in the building in which the election office is located. Only if the election office is unavailable or deemed unsuitable for early voting, may the municipality designate another centrally-located, convenient alternative location.
In Wakefield, Sheeran said, early voting will take place at the Town Clerk’s Office on the first floor of Town Hall.
“The only place I am going to use is right here,” Sheeran said at her office yesterday. In the event that people start showing up in large numbers, she said that she would set up for early voting in the first floor conference room at Town Hall.
The state law provides that any qualified voter wanting to vote early may file with his or her local election official an application for an early voting ballot. If the voter would like the early voting ballot sent by mail, he or she must so indicate on the application.
A letter or any other form of written communication evidencing a desire to have an early voting ballot sent out shall be given the same effect as the official application, according to the provisions of the law.
An application for an early voting ballot must be received by the Town Clerk’s Office before noon on the last day of the early voting period.
Sheeran did point out the wording of the law describing the last day of early voting as “the business day preceding the business day before the election.” With the election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Sheeran stressed, that means that in Wakefield those wishing to apply for early voting must do so at Town Hall before noon on Friday, Nov. 4.
When an early voting application is filed in person, the election official will give the voter the appropriate early voting ballot and any accompanying papers. Early voting locations must have a space available for voters to mark their ballots in private. After marking his or her ballot, each early voter will enclose it in the envelope provided, execute the affidavit contained thereon and seal the envelope before returning it to the election official.
Upon receiving an application for an early voting ballot, the election official will place the designation “EV” next to that voter’s name on the official voting lists.
Early voting ballots returned by mail or in person must be received by the local election official before the hour fixed for closing the polls.
Sheeran said that she would like to see early voting and “absentee voting” combined, as they cover, with a few exceptions, much of the same territory. Most people, she said, will see little distinction between early voting and absentee voting.
While early voting means some extra work for her staff, Sheeran said that she supports the concept.
“We have to be accommodating to the voter and I think early voting does that,” Sheeran said. “That’s what this office is here for.”