Friday, October 8, 2004
Election 2004: Getting the best out of our ballot box
November 2 is less than a month away, and this year's presidential election looks like it's going to guarantee a heavy voter turnout at Town Hall. According to Town Clerk Charlene Hinton, Carlisle has approximately 3,300 voters, and if this election is anything like the last one in 2000, at least 90% of them are expected to vote. We all love our historic ballot box, and we can give it a good healthy workout on November 2. Meanwhile, it's not too early to start thinking about what we can do to help make voting an efficient, pleasant, and significant experience.
Register by October 13
Much of the voting process is made up of things that can be done well ahead of time. Number one on the list is to register as a Carlisle voter. Registration applications are available during office hours in Town Hall. Realizing that the 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. hours are not convenient for all, Hinton plans to place a box outside the office containing registration applications and absentee ballot applications, and hold some extended hours up until the deadline. Citizens may also obtain these documents by mail by calling the Town Clerk's office at 1-978-369-6155. Voters may register until 8 p.m. on October 13, after which registration for this election will be closed.
Notify the Town Clerk of changes in residence
Assistant Town Clerk Irene Blake reminds Carlisle voters who have moved within the town to notify the Town Clerk's office of their new addresses, as they are dropped from the rolls when they move from their old homes. College students may vote in Carlisle either in person or by absentee ballot. If they choose to vote in the towns where they go to school, they will be dropped from Carlisle's rolls when they do so. In any case, if a voter makes any change in residence or voting place, notifying the Town Clerk's office well ahead of time will save time and paperwork.
Voting with an absentee ballot by November 1
Voters who cannot be in Carlisle, are hospitalized, or whose physical condition limits their ability to get to the polls to vote in person on November 2 should obtain absentee ballots by application from the Town Clerk's office. Hinton says about 150 voters have already applied for absentee ballots, and will be exercising their franchise even though they will be in places as far-flung as New Zealand and South Africa. Election Warden Harriet Fortier said there were 300-400 absentee ballots in the last presidential election, and this year may top that number. Absentee ballots must be in the Town Clerk's office not later than noon of the day before the election, November 1.
Not everyone may be aware that absentee ballots are walked through the voting process in the Clark Room. Fortier says Phyllis Hughes is in charge of this process: she will call out the address and name on each ballot to the checkers at the entrance and exit and insert each ballot into the box.
Hughes keeps a current list of all ballots cast in this manner, so that if anyone who has submitted an absentee ballot should come in person to vote, she will be able to tell whether or not the ballot has been cast. If it has not been checked in and inserted into the ballot box, the voter may vote in person.
Picture I.D.s and provisional ballots
According to new state statutes, first-time voters will be asked at check-in for a picture I.D., and they may then proceed in the same manner as "veteran" Carlisle voters. I.D.s will also be required of people whose addresses either do not appear or do not match the check-in list. This stipulation allows voters who can establish their Carlisle residence but may not have updated records with Town Hall to vote. They will sign a signature roster and their ballots are sealed inside a "provisional ballots" envelope for three days, giving them and the Clerk's office time to clear up any questions regarding their proper registration and eligibility. If the problem is resolved in that time, their votes are counted and the town's total is adjusted accordingly. If the problem cannot be resolved, these ballots are held "in escrow" as part of the total number of ballots used, but they are not counted as votes unless they can make a difference to the outcome of the election. These new regulations are designed to obviate the "hanging chad" problem that plagued Florida four years ago, and make sure all Massachusetts votes are properly counted.
Keeping it moving
Getting 3,300 voters in and out of Town Hall won't be such a daunting task if people can cooperate in a few significant ways. "Come prepared to vote and leave," says Irene Blake. This means voters should prepare beforehand by looking at the sample ballot that will be published in the Mosquito and making their decisions before coming to Town Hall. Upon arrival, a voter must check in at the entrance by announcing, in order:
1. his street
2. his house number
3. his name
The voter may then proceed to a cubicle and fill out his ballot. Charlene Hinton adds that it is completely legal to fill out the sample ballots or bring another "cheat sheet" list of decisions into the voting cubicle as long as it is removed when the voter leaves the cubicle. When the ballot is complete, voters should proceed directly to the check-out area and the ballot box, and then leave via the door near the ballot box. People with handicaps, such as blindness, may request help in the process from one of the polls inspectors or a voter of their choice.
Polls open at 6 a.m.
Parking is limited at Town Hall, so voters who can are encouraged to vote in the middle of the day, avoiding the "commuter rushes" before and after the working day. Hinton also encourages voters to "buddy up": come with groups of friends or associates in a carpool or walk if possible. No town employees will park in the Town Hall parking lot, but it is sure to fill up quickly, so the fewer cars there are, the better. To better accommodate the heavy turnout, Hinton stated that the polls will open at 6 a.m.
To avoid bottlenecks and comply with state regulations, voters are asked to leave their campaign materials: t-shirts, buttons, elevated car signs, etc., at home, as these items are not allowed within 150 feet of the polling place. Anyone wearing clothing pertaining to the election will be asked to cover it with a jacket provided at check-in. No one may hand out pamphlets, conduct exit surveys or interviews, or interfere with voters in any way in the polling place. The spirit of this regulation is obvious: voters must be allowed to exercise their franchise in complete freedom, without influence from anyone.
Why is the voting being held at Town Hall?
Several people have asked why this particular vote is being held at Town Hall instead of at the more commodious Carlisle School. Town Hall is Carlisle's official polling place, and this would have to be changed officially with the state in order to hold the vote at the school. Records of eligibility and registration are held at Town Hall, and it is more efficient to check them on site, as telephones are not conveniently located at the school to call Town Hall and check them. Town Clerk Hinton says, "It is more efficient to keep everyone and everything in one place. We don't want 2,000 provisional ballots and other paperwork problems."
There is only one ballot available to all citizens, and voters may vote for any candidates without party affiliation. Party affiliation applies only to a primary. Voters who do wish to change their affiliations may do so at the Town Clerk's office or at any election.
Marking the ballots
Another good reason to make a list of decisions or mark the sample ballot in the Mosquito ahead of time is to avoid making mistakes once inside the polling booth. Mistakes can invalidate a ballot. Voters are advised not to cross out anything on the ballot: if they choose not to vote for a particular candidate, they may leave the box blank. If the voter is to choose one of two candidates on a ballot and marks the wrong one in error, he should ask a poll worker for a new ballot. His first ballot, which will be placed in an envelope marked "spoiled ballots," will not count in the election.
Voters should mark the boxes next to the names of their candidates with an "X," and vote for only the number of candidates to be elected to a particular office: voting for more will cancel the vote for that office. Voters may write in names, if they choose. Except when writing in a candidate for President of the United States, the voter should provide the address of the write-in as well as the name.
Anyone with questions about registration, absentee ballots, or any part of the voting procedure may call the Town Clerk's office at 1-978-369-6155 and ask for Charlene Hinton. Everyone is strongly urged to call ahead of time, with questions, as November 2 will be a busy day. On that day, voters with questions that come up during the voting process can ask Town Clerk Hinton, who has the deciding vote on any questions or problems. In her absence, Assistant Town Clerk Blake has this authority. After the Town Clerk, questions may also be addressed to Election Warden Fortier, or in her absence, Assistant Warden Eva Herndon. The Town Clerk and the Election Warden try to work in tandem to solve any problems that occur.
© 2004 The