Clerks urge early voting for May 19 special state senate election

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Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2020 2:52:49 PM

EASTHAMPTON — With the special state Senate election scheduled for May 19, area municipalities in the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District are taking extra steps to protect voters who will go to the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally scheduled for March 31, this election, along with three other special elections in other parts of the state, was rescheduled due to the coronavirus. Current state Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, and Republican John Cain, a Southwick business owner, are running for the vacant seat, which was previously held by former Republican state Sen. Donald Humason before he took over as mayor of Westfield in January.

Any registered voter in the district, which includes Easthampton, Southampton and Holyoke, may request an early ballot by mail by sending to their local clerk’s office a signed letter or application requesting a ballot, according to area city and town clerks. Easthampton City Clerk Barbara LaBombard said voters choosing this option should give some time for the ballot to be sent to their home. Ballots must be completed and returned to local election officials by election day, according to the state Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

“If somebody wants to vote, I think they should vote early, if they can, by mail,” LaBombard said.

LaBombard said there’s a voter registration deadline of May 8 for the entire district and registration can be done online up until 11:59 p.m. that day or by mail. In Easthampton, LaBombard said the city will also have an in-person registration on May 8 at the city’s Public Safety Complex from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Southampton Town Clerk Luci Dalton said in-person voter registration will be done outside of Town Hall on the same date and times. Holyoke had no plans for in-person registration as of Thursday.

LaBombard said polling places will remain at White Brook Middle School and Easthampton High School, though precautions will be taken to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The city has ordered plexiglass guards to be placed on poll workers’ tables, pens will be sanitized after every use, a limited number of voting booths will be spaced far apart and a hand-sanitizing station will be available for after voting. Poll workers and voters are asked to wear masks, and the city will have some extra gloves and masks for those who need them.

“We’re going to spread things out more than usual,” LaBombard said.

Holyoke City Clerk Brenna McGee said the City Council on Wednesday voted to move two polling places due to COVID-19 concerns. Ward 1 precinct B has been moved from the Prospect Heights Community Room at 41 Chestnut St. to City Hall, and Ward 3 precinct A has been moved from the Elmwood Engine House on South Street to the Joseph Metcalf School at 2019 Northampton St.

Poll workers will be wearing masks and gloves and each voting booth will be wiped down after every voter, McGee said. The city has ordered hundreds of small golf pencils for ballots so there’s no sharing of pens and voting booths will be spread out six feet apart. Voters will be provided masks if they don’t have them and the city will work with the police department to minimize the amount of people in one location at a time.

Dalton, the Southampton town clerk, said the town has a plan in place for voting during COVID-19, though some details are still being worked out. Voting will happen at Town Hall and will have specific entry and exit points, hand sanitizer will be provided, poll workers will be wearing masks and gloves and social distancing will be encouraged. The town is also looking into installing plexiglass and giving face shields to workers.

Dalton said she’s having younger poll workers come in that day to work as she doesn’t want to risk the safety of older workers. LaBombard said 50 percent of her workers have decided not to work due to COVID-19, but she isn’t worried about not having enough staff. McGee also said quite a few poll workers in Holyoke have called out, though the city has reached out to back-up staff. Both McGee and LaBombard said they expect a turnout of 8% to 10% — though LaBombard said she would have expected a low turnout even without a global pandemic.

McGee said she’s nervous to hold an election during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she would have liked to see it pushed back into early to mid-June.

“Obviously I think democracy is important, but I also think the safety and health of everyone in the city should be the No. 1 priority right now,” McGee said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure everybody stays safe.”

Applications for early voting by mail and other election information can be found online at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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