As poll workers, we know how much preparation it takes to ensure that Election Day runs smoothly. In order to avoid the scenes we saw in Florida and Wisconsin earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature must take action—and quickly—to ensure high-turnout elections while also protecting public health of voters and poll workers.
The bill recently passed by the Massachusetts House takes a number of important steps forward, such as mailing every voter an application for early-vote-by-mail and expanding the number of days of early voting for both the primary and the general. Although not as robust as mailing every voter a ballot, mailing these applications can help boost turnout and at the same time reduce the number of people who would show up in-person at the polls: a win-win situation.
Similarly, since it was premiered in 2016, early voting in Massachusetts has been a resounding success. Increasing the number of days of early voting will enable voters and poll workers to better follow social distancing guidelines by spreading out the number of in-person voters.
However, the bill has some glaring omissions.
Although the bill reduces our 20-day voter registration blackout period to a 10-day voter registration blackout period, any blackout period remains arbitrary and unnecessary. We should eliminate it entirely, as our neighboring states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut already have. With a September 1st primary date, such a registration cutoff will exclude many students returning to school. We should be encouraging civic engagement among young people, not making it more difficult. Indeed, this impact will be even worse this year as summer voter registration drives are not likely to occur and many of the places, such as libraries, to pick up printed voter registration forms are closed. Every eligible voter should be able to participate and have a positive experience while doing so. That means being able to register or update your registration on Election Day.
Moreover, the bill treats the safety of in-person voting as an afterthought, including minimal guidelines for the Secretary of State and municipalities. We need to do far more to protect in-person voting—and protect poll workers, many of whom are in the high-risk age group (over 65). Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to vote in person.
It will be possible to keep sufficient polling sites open only by providing a safe environment and the necessary personal protective equipment (including N95 masks, as there is greater risk for aerosol small particles in closed spaces where many congregate) for poll workers. The city should actively recruit younger poll workers and consider splitting shifts for Inspectors. Voters should be expected to wear masks, maintain social distance and have access to hand sanitizer at the polls. Polls should have increased check-in stations to reduce crowding.
As poll workers, we show up every election because of our commitment to democracy. We need to know that we and the voters will be safe.
The Massachusetts state primary is already less than three months away. It is vital that the Senate strengthen the bill – and that it become law as soon as possible. Our democracy depends on it.
Ward 4 Poll Workers, Annie McCue, Inspector
Andrea Olmstead, Warden
Etta Rosen, Warden
Ruth Rothstein, Warden
Benjamin Siegel, MD, Inspector
Jane Siegel, Clerk
Judith Wright, Warden
Grant Young, Clerk