1st run through early voting results in honors from Common Cause

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Common Cause Massachusetts has recognized 219 cities and towns for meeting best practice standards for early voting, which was available for the first time this fall.
 
The 35 cities and towns awarded a gold medal by Common Cause had at least one early voting site for every 35,000 people, evening hours at least two times per week, and six or more hours of weekend time available.
 
The 170 municipalities awarded a silver medal had at least one early voting site for every 35,000 people, evening hours at least once a week, and at least four hours of weekend time.
 
Fourteen cities and towns earned an honorable mention from Common Cause.
 
Northborough Town Clerk Andy Dowd, president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, said early voting went well overall.
 
“Our first experience with early voting was successful and extremely popular,” he said in an interview. “The voters loved the convenience of it. It certainly was challenging to manage the volume, but given this was our first time conducting early voting I think it went very well.”
 
He said one of the challenges was the requirement that early voting ballots be sealed in an envelope signed by the voter until they are counted on Election Day – something that “proved to be an extremely burdensome process.”
 
The problem could be alleviated by allowing voters to deposit early ballots directly into voting machines, where they would be secured but not tallied until Election Day, Dowd said.
 
He added that additional financial support from the state is needed.
 
“We all learned during this first experience that conducting early voting sessions was extremely time-consuming and resulted in significant administrative costs,” he said.
 
The clerks association will likely request legislative amendments to streamline the process, Dowd said. Given early voting’s popularity, the association will also explore an amendment to allow municipalities to opt into early voting for municipal elections. Currently, early voting is only available during Congressional midterm and presidential elections.
 
Final numbers were not available from the Secretary of the State’s Office before The Beacon went to press, but unofficial numbers had approximately 3.25 million ballots cast, with roughly one-third of voters (1.39 million) casting their votes early.
 
Dowd noted that early voting did not appear to produce a higher turnout, which was about 71.25 percent of registered voters, lower than the most recent presidential elections, which saw 77.9 percent turnout in 2012 and 73.5 percent turnout in 2008.
 
The Common Cause Massachusetts’ Early Voting Challenge Gold Medal winners are: Acton, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dartmouth, Dedham, Duxbury, Falmouth, Franklin, Lincoln, Lowell, Malden, Manchester-By-The-Sea, Monson, New Bedford, Newton, Norfolk, Northampton, North Attleborough, Northborough, Pepperell, Plymouth, Quincy, Rockland, Shirley, South Hadley, Springfield, Swampscott, Templeton, Tyringham, Waltham, Wellesley, Williamsburg, and Worcester.
 
For more on the Common Cause awards, visit www.commoncause.org/states/massachusetts/issues/voting-and-elections/early-voting.