Select Board could ‘opt out’ of mail-in voting for Town Election
Wareham could “opt out” of mail-in-voting for May’s Town Election, a possibility discussed during the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Town Clerk Michele Bissonnette argued that getting rid of voting by mail would not deprive anyone of their right to vote. Instead, voters could request absentee ballots, which she said are functionally identical to mail-in ballots.
“I have never turned down one person who asked for an absentee ballot,” Bissonnette said. “I always sent them out.”
Bissonnette said that while the town already has “boxes and boxes of absentee ballot forms,” mail-in ballots must be printed, creating an expense for the town.
“I want everybody to be able to vote,” Bissonnette said. “The only thing this is doing for us as a town is saving us quite a bit of money, not having to print those things.”
Currently, the Town Clerk’s office is staffed by her and one other person, making the task of preparing and processing the mail-in ballots even more challenging.
“It gets very, very difficult for us in the office with just two people to process all of this,” Bissonnette said. “That entails a lot of man-hours that we just don’t get the people for right now.”
“It seems like a no-brainer to eliminate this process,” said Select Board Member Jared Chadwick, “because it’s so time-consuming and it’s really more time and money than we need to spend.”
The state of Massachusetts requires towns to accept mail-in ballots for state elections, but not local ones.
Bissonnette said that the only difference between mail-in and absentee ballots is that on the latter, voters must choose one of three reasons why they are using it; religious convictions, illness or not being in town on Election Day.
Even if a voter is in town on Election Day, Bissonnette said, there is no penalty for saying that they cannot make it to their polling place.
“There’s no election police going around saying, ‘Hey, you were there that day, you have to vote in person,’” she said.
Residents can receive absentee ballots through the mail by applying on the town or state website.
Some local residents pushed back on the idea.
Diane Kenney said that there was already money in the town budget for printing mail-in ballots, and that filling out an absentee ballot despite being in town on Election Day would be “lying.”
“If I am in town that day, then I would vote if I was able to vote,” Kenney said. “I am not going to request an absentee ballot and lie on it in order to mail-in vote.”
Kenney said that while she felt bad that the Town Clerk’s office was understaffed, it was not “a good enough excuse not to offer mail-in voting.”
The discussion was continued to Tuesday, Feb. 7, in order to create more opportunities for public feedback.
Residents wishing to share their opinions about voting by mail can email firstname.lastname@example.org.