One Week To Vote: A Q&A With Town Clerk On Early Voting, Election Day

Photo: Early voting at Town Hall continues to Friday

There are mailers filled with voter requests stacked behind the plexiglass on the front desk of the Belmont Town Clerks office at Town Hall. Across the hall, volunteers are helping residents with the early voting process while other voters are jump out of their vehicles to place mail-in ballots into the town’s official “drop box.”

With the 2020 presidential election one week away, it was expected that the small full-time staff and Town Clerk Ellen Cushman would be busy with a myriad of tasks; from answering requests, preparing Belmont’s eight polling stations, having everything prepped for Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Now add to the usual election preparations a coronavirus pandemic, running an early election operation in Town Hall and an explosion in mail-in ballots, it’s about as busy as Santa’s workshop the day before Christmas in the Clerk’s office.

For Ellen Cushman, Belmont’s Town Clerk, the goal of her office in the coming seven days is to make the process of voting as smooth and worry free as possible. The Belmontonian spoke with Cushman at Town Hall to ask her view of the upcoming election.

Belmontonian: Across the country, there have been extraordinary numbers in states and cities in regards to early voting. What has been the experience here?

Cushman: In Belmont, we have 18,000 registered voters, and we’ve mailed out more than 11,000 ballots. To date, we have 9,000 of those in hand, so we’re about at 50 percent of all voters having cast their ballots and are done. We still have about 2,800 ballots that are floating around out there and they’re deciding whether they’re going to turn them in, or they’re going to vote on Election Day. Then there are the remaining 7,000 who haven’t made a mail-in request or have early voted.

Q: So how many, so how much longer do people have before. Do they have to vote, either coming in, either early voting like we have here, or via mail,

Cushman: If you want to file a vote by mail request and receive a ballot to be mailed to you. You have until Wednesday, October 28 to file that request at 5 p.m. To request a ballot by mail, go online on to the Secretary of the Commonwealth portal – it’s also a great place to check whether your ballot has been returned, whether you’re a registered voter and where you would vote. You can just also go to that same site, print the “vote by mail application” and then you would have to fax it to us, email it to us, or drop it in our Dropbox out in front of Town Hall. Any of those three is acceptable. But again by the deadline is Oct. 28.

You can also vote by coming into Town Hall and do early voting in person. Early continues until Friday, Oct. 30. The schedule is

  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Friday; 8 a.m. to noon

And if you miss those two early options, you can always show up on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3 at one of the eight Belmont precincts based on where you live.

Q: Due to the average age of election workers, somce towns are having trouble getting enough staff for Nov. 3. What is the situtation in Belmont?

Early voting starts here.

Cushman: We’ve been doing great. We have a lot of wonderful seasoned workers for have been here for a long time but who were not able to do so because they were in higher-risk categories due to COVID. We were down definitely before our June Town Election so we put out a call to people and we got a tremendous response who heard that maybe the election was going to be compromised in terms of our ability to recruit and keep poll workers. In the end, we’ve got 210 qualified election workers. I think we’re going to be deploying about 120 of them on election day.

Q: This could be a record turnout for the country in term of voters. What do you think the percentage is going to be in Belmont?

Cushman: I am not going to predict but I will tell you if you looked at the past, Belmont is a very heavy voting community particular if you look at the state election two years ago. In 2018, Belmont was at 74 percent, one of the highest in the state. Our presidential elections in November usually hangs out somewhere in the lower 80s, 85 percent. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in that zone; it certainly feels that way to us there’s a tremendous amount of interest, a lot of energy, people are excited to get involved in the process.

Q: With the volume of ballots and new procedures, have any issues cropped up from the public?

Cushman: We have had only a couple of people who are unhappy with what they’re finding as they’re going through the process. They thought they could requested a ballot by mail and then came here in person and be able to put their ballot through the voting machine. Massachusetts laws only allows voters to do that on Election Day. So we’ve only had a couple of those sort of intersections which were less than fulfilling but that’s what happens when you have 18,000 people trying to vote.

Q: Any final words for the voters week before the election?

Cushman: The polls at the precincts are open on Election Day at 7 a.m. and close promptly at 8 p.m. If you are in line at 8 p.m., you will still be able to vote.

And prepare to be patient. This is a very unusual year. All of our polling places had to be reconfigured for the June and September elections and we’re using the same sort of configurations: one way in, one way out as much as we can and all of the voting booths are at least six-feet apart. Some of our polling locations had to be diminish or cut back on the number of booths that we’re offering, so the number of people who will be allowed in the polling place to vote will likely be smaller. So bring a Sudoku or crossword puzzle, headphones or a book. People are used to just picking their time, walking in walking out.

It might be a reset of what their expectation is and that’s where we are.

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