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Scibak advocates for write-in space on ballots

  • State Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, has filed a bill that would mandate communities that hand count their ballots to have space on their primary ballots for write-in votes. gazette file photo



Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — State Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, has filed a bill that would mandate communities that hand count ballots to have a space on primary ballots for write-in votes.

“You’ve got two different ballots that are used in the same election,” said Scibak, who will retire after he completes his current term at the end of the year.

At the present time in primary elections, communities with ballots that are counted via optical scanning machines have write-in spaces for all offices on the ballot. However, in hand-count communities in these same primaries, the ballots do not have spaces for write-in candidates, unless there are less people on the ballot running for a position than there are positions.

This issue came to the forefront in the Democratic primary for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate, which featured three write-in candidates, including winner Jo Comerford. Comerford’s campaign complained about this discrepancy to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office prior to the primary, asserting that the lack of a defined write-in space in the hand-count communities was confusing to voters. Ten towns in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District count their ballots by hand.

In its reply, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office asserted that the difference between the ballots was in keeping with how the law currently reads.

“They’re right,” Scibak said. “And the statutes are inconsistent.”

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office provided instructions for voters on how to cast a write-in vote in the hand-count communities prior to the Sept. 4 primary.

Scibak’s bill attempts to reconcile the issue by inserting the requirement into the statute governing hand-counted ballots that a write-in space be provided for every office on the ballot.

Scibak has expressed concern about the hand-count ballots not having a write-in space disadvantaging write-in candidates. However, he also said that the instructions on how to cast a write-in vote at the polling places in these communities could have given write-in candidates an advantage, by acting as a reminder of the existence of viable write-ins in the race.

Of the 10 hand-count communities, six were won by write-in candidate Comerford and four were won by Chelsea Kline, the only candidate on the ballot in the Senate race, according to the unofficial results.

Scibak said that his bill should be of interest of members of all parties. “This is a non-partisan bill,” he said.

He also noted the importance of the change for elections when the primary is essentially the general election.

In the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District, all candidates for the seat ran in the Democratic primary.

Scibak also took issue with voters in different communities having different ballots with differing opportunities to exercise their franchise.

He said that he was looking to have the bill passed this legislative session, as one does not know when there will be another vacancy in the Legislature. He anticipates that there will be a hearing on the bill within the next few weeks, and that he will be advocating for its passage with both the Democratic and Republican leadership.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.