The Mashpee town elections remain scheduled for Tuesday, May 19, but voters are encouraged to request and submit absentee ballots rather than vote in-person, the selectmen said during their virtual meeting on Monday, April 6.
After consideration of when and how to hold the election, by unanimous vote the selectmen changed the polling location from the Quashnet School to town hall and shortened the hours of in-person voting from 9 AM to 4 PM.
“We have a couple of different options on this, the town elections,” Selectmen Chairman Andrew R. Gottlieb said. “We have the option to postpone to another date prior to June 30 or we can proceed with the election on the 19th.”
“This is a hard one. I don’t have strong feelings about what the right thing to do here [is],” Mr. Gottlieb said. “You could argue this one every which way.”
The chairman noted that the recommendation from Town Clerk Deborah Dami was to encourage residents to vote by mail, maintain the May 19 date, and change the location for in-person voting to town hall.
“People are, by statute, able to use the need to self-quarantine or remain in as the basis for obtaining an absentee ballot,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
The form to request an absentee ballot is available under the Town Clerk tab on the Town of Mashpee website.
Mr. Gottlieb also noted that more people will be in town if the board were to delay the election further. “More people around maybe encourages people to congregate at a polling location. That we want to discourage,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
Selectman Thomas O’Hara questioned the idea of shortening the hours of in-person voting.
“I was always told that a lot of people came during the early and later hours” on their way to and from work, Mr. O’Hara said. He noted that the 10 AM to 3 PM hours suggested by the town clerk would be going in the middle of the two times during which in-person voting is often the busiest.
Ms. Dami replied, “My thoughts, when I came up with reducing the hours, was because we’re trying to really emphasize to vote early or absentee so that they’re not coming into town hall, so that they’re not endangering anybody or even themselves.”
State law requires in-person voting to be available and sets a minimum number of hours the polls must be open, but does not set a maximum, Mr. Gottlieb said.
“The trick is trying to get people to vote by mail. You have to by law provide a physical location for people to come to vote but then really try to discourage that activity, regardless on when this is held,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
Ms. Sherman said that the selectmen should go with the recommendation made by the town clerk. “There’s only two contested races and that’s planning board and school committee,” she said. “We’re all doing everything new. Let’s try it, let’s do it.”
She suggested extending the hours for in-person voting to 9 AM to 4 PM rather than the 10 AM to 3 PM hours recommended by the town clerk.
The longer hours might be necessary, Ms. Sherman said, because “you’d have to have only so many [people] come in at a time.”
Mr. O’Hara suggested that signage be put up at various locations around town, including at the rotary and town hall, to remind residents to request absentee ballots rather than vote in-person.
Mr. Gottlieb said a reverse 911 call should be made to residents to inform them of how to request an absentee ballot.
Town Manager Rodney C. Collins said that his staff would work to implement the signage and reverse 911 call.
Mr. Collins also said that “We may need some additional funds or a transfer of funds for the purposes of the ballots.” He said he is not worried about financing the ballots but that he wanted to make sure the board was aware of the possible costs.
Prior to the discussion on scheduling the election, Mr. Gottlieb noted that he and Selectman David W. Weeden are up for reelection and he had consulted town counsel about whether “this conversation represented a conflict.”
“We were advised that it does not because this is a matter of overriding public interest in which neither one of us has any particular benefit in the outcome one way or another, so we’re both clear to participate,” he said.
Mr. Weeden and Mr. Gottlieb are running uncontested for the two seats on the board of selectmen.
Ms. Dami said after the selectmen’s meeting that she recommended the change in location from the Quashnet School to town hall “so we wouldn’t cause any disturbance at the school in case the kids are back at school.”
At present schools are closed until at least Monday, May 4.
Ms. Dami said the “emphasis is on voting by mail.”
The application for requesting an absentee ballot is already available online and rubber gloves will be worn when the ballots are put together for distribution, she said.