Election department taking COVID precautions
Source: Yawu Miller, Bay State Banner
Last Saturday and Sunday, Boston voters with mail-in ballots could drop their envelopes in receptacles outside one of nine community centers across the city. Inside the community centers, voters checked in and voted early with the standard paper ballots. For those unwilling to make a trip to a local community center, mail-in ballots could be dropped in the nearest mailbox.
In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, Boston rolled out its first-ever early voting regimen before a primary. The implementation of mail-in and in-person balloting, all while seeking to keep election workers and voters safe from infection, has put the city’s Election Department to the test.
Election Department workers preparing ballots. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE
“We’ve been working a lot of added hours,” said Boston Election Commissioner Eneida Tavares. “Our staff has been doing a great job.”
The department’s adaptation to the safety demands imposed on voting by the pandemic were on display at voting sites over the weekend. At Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD)’s Thelma Burns Building on Warren Street, for instance, signage and tape on the floor directed voters to enter through one set of doors and exit through another to maintain social distancing.
So far, 3,878 people have voted early, not including mail-in ballots. Election Department officials received nearly 20,000 requests for mail-in ballots. In the 2016 primary, 34,424 people voted.
While it can be difficult to predict turnout before any election, it may be even more difficult during the current pandemic. Some voters may shy away from the polls for fear of infection. On the other hand, a contentious Senate Democratic primary race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Congressman Joe Kennedy III could help drive higher turnout. Additionally, there are three-way races in the Mattapan-based 12th Suffolk District and the Hyde Park-based 14th Suffolk District and a two-way race in the Charlestown/Chelsea 2nd Suffolk District.
Tavares said the increased early voting should take some of the strain off of polling places on the Tuesday, Sept. 1 primary day.
“That is the goal,” she said. “To limit the number of in-person voters.”
Polling is open at City Hall every day this week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Thursday, polling will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at City Hall, the Perkins Community Center at the Lee School in Dorchester, The Mildred Avenue School Gymnasium in Mattapan, the St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church banquet hall on Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale and at the Margarita Muñiz Academy gymnasium on Child Street in Jamaica Plain.
During early voting as well as on Sept. 1, voters will be asked to wear face masks. Masks will be made available on the day of the primary to anyone who doesn’t bring one.
Polling locations in Boston will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 1. The ballot will be available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Language assistance will be available on Election Day by poll workers or through a translation phone bank. For more information, see the city’s election website, www.boston.gov/departments/election.
Tavares says the department held virtual trainings for election workers, instructing them how to have voters disinfect their hands on the way in and out of the voting process, how to clean and disinfect the pens used for voting after each use and how to restrict use of the four-station voting booths to no more than two people at once, among other topics.
Whether the turnout is 30,000 or 10,000, Tavares says the department’s workers will be ready.
“We prepare for 100% turnout for any election,” she said.