Falmouth voters might see new faces at the polls on election day.
“Maybe 50 percent of the poll workers that normally work have agreed to work,” Town Clerk Michael C. Palmer said. “I’m trying to fill those positions, and it is a challenge.”
The town clerk’s office is looking to hire election monitors and workers for the special state election and town election scheduled for Tuesday, May 19. Applications are available at www.falmouthma.gov. Preference will be given to candidates who apply by Tuesday, May 12. Election workers are paid $12.75 per hour.
“I’m confident we will be able to open on the 19th, whether we do it with a reduced staff or not,” Mr. Palmer said.
He said he understands why previous poll workers might be hesitant to work on election day this year.
“The demographics of our poll workers is normally older, so I understand why they might not want to,” Mr. Palmer said.
The town is taking steps—including the hiring of election monitors—to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure at the polls. The town will limit the number of voters who can enter a polling site to six at any given time.
“I’m hoping that enough people vote early by mail that this won’t be an issue and we won’t have lines outside,” Mr. Palmer said.
If lines form on election day, social distancing will be encouraged. In addition, voters will be required to wear masks or face coverings when going to the polls.
“If they don’t have their own mask, we will provide them, assuming we can get our hands on them,” Mr. Palmer said, noting his office is working to purchase and have masks ready for election day.
Poll workers will clean and sanitize the voting booths throughout the day. Voting booths will be placed at least six feet apart. In addition, plexiglass sneeze guards will be installed, similar to those seen at checkout at grocery stores and supermarkets.
Though not required, Assistant Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub said, voters are encouraged to bring their own pen. Black or blue pens, either felt or ballpoint, are recommended. Red pens should not be used, nor should permanent markers or Sharpies, which can bleed through the ballot.
There are two elections scheduled for May 19. In the special state election, Falmouth Selectman Susan L. Moran and attorney James (Jay) McMahon III are running to fill the Plymouth and Barnstable District seat left vacant by former state Senator Viriato (Vinny) deMacedo (R-Plymouth).
There is one contested race in the town election, with three candidates running for two seats on the board of selectmen. Incumbent Samuel H. Patterson is being challenged by Precinct Five Town Meeting member Michael G. Heylin and Nancy R. Taylor, the former superintendent of the Falmouth Public Schools.
The town election also includes a proposed $971,507 override of Proposition 2½ to fund the hiring of eight additional firefighters in the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department, a nonbinding referendum calling for better security of spent fuel storage at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, and 10 proposed changes to the Falmouth Town Charter.
Mr. Palmer is encouraging people to vote early in both elections.
“Doing so reduces the exposure for both election workers and voters,” he said.
As of Tuesday, May 5, Mr. Palmer said, the town had received approximately 6,500 early voting applications, about 3,000 for each election.
“The application has to specify what ballot they like, whether it’s the special state election, town election, or both,” Mr. Palmer said.
The town clerk’s office cannot send out a ballot unless it is requested, he said, and voters need to specify if they want both ballots.
“There are applications out there, particularly from the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, that only have a check box for the special state election,” Mr. Palmer said, noting the application on the town’s website at www.falmouthmass.us/957/Early-Voting has a check box for both elections.
Approximately 80 percent of those who applied for early voting have used the town’s application. Noting Falmouth typically gets a 30 percent turnout for a town election, Mr. Palmer said his goal is to have 4,000 voters vote early via mail.
“If we can get close to 4,000 voters by mail, that would be 50 percent of what we normally get at the polls,” he said, which would dramatically reduce the number of people voting in-person on election day.
Once an early voting application is completed it can be mailed to the Town Clerk’s Office, 59 Town Hall Square, Falmouth, MA 02540; emailed to email@example.com; or faxed to 508-457-2511. The town clerk’s office will process the application and mail a ballot to the voter. Given the time it takes to mail the application and ballot back and forth, Mr. Johnson-Staub recommended submitting the application at least one week in advance.
The completed ballot must be returned to the town clerk’s office by 8 PM on May 19.
Selectmen on Monday night, May 4, praised Mr. Palmer for his election efforts.
“This clerk’s office is really, and this isn’t true for every clerk’s office in the commonwealth, to the upmost facilitating the ability for folks to vote early,” selectmen chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said.
She urged those who cannot access the ballot application online to call the town clerk’s office at 508-495-7360 for assistance.
“This office is working around the clock to help people to make sure people don’t have to choose between their health and voting,” Ms. English Braga said. “There is no need for that choice to be something that people agonize over.”