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Write-in workshops planned for ‘unique, not unusual’ primary

  • Secretary of State William Francis Galvin announced in Amherst Thursday plans to hold workshops on the process of voting for write-in candidates ahead of the primary on Sept. 4, which will feature an election for state Senate with five write-in candidates. GAZETTE STAFF / M.J. TIDWELL—

  • Secretary of State William Francis Galvin talks with Amherst residents Thursday about plans to hold workshops on the process of voting for write-in candidates ahead of the primary on Sept. 4, which will feature an election for state Senate with five write-in candidates. GAZETTE STAFF / M.J. TIDWELL—

  • Secretary of State William Francis Galvin talks with Amherst Select Board member Andrew Steinberg in Amherst Thursday about plans to hold workshops on the process of voting for write-in candidates ahead of the primary on Sept. 4, which will feature an election for state Senate with five write-in candidates. GAZETTE STAFF / M.J. TIDWELL—

  • Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin speaks during the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention, June 2, in Worcester. AP FILE PHOTO



@mjtidwell781
Friday, June 22, 2018

AMHERST — Elections officials are prepping for a “unique, but not unusual” primary with five write-in candidates for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester state Senate seat, according to Secretary of State William Francis Galvin.

Galvin traveled to Amherst on Thursday to announce plans to hold workshops for town and city clerks, candidates and voters on the process for write-in votes to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes time to head to the polls for the primary on Sept. 4.

The five write-in candidates are David Morin of Amherst, David J. Murphy of Amherst, Ryan O’Donnell of Northampton, Jo Comerford of Northampton, and Steven Connor of Northampton.

Galvin said there is a long history of write-in candidates in Massachusetts, but the number of write-in candidates for this Senate seat is unique and can present some additional challenges during the election, hence the workshops.

Galvin said one of the workshops will be for town and city clerks and elections officials for a refresher on the rules regarding write-in votes and how they are to be counted.

“If the intent of the voter can be determined, the vote must be counted,” Galvin said.

That means that if a voter made a good-faith effort to write-in the name of their chosen candidate and the information written down is enough to identify the candidate, the vote will be counted even if there are small errors such as a misspelled name.

For voters choosing write-in candidates, there are two options. Voters can write in the name of the person they wish to vote for on the ballot in the designated area, or candidates may provide stickers that voters can attach to the ballot in the designated area.

With stickers, Galvin said, a point of confusion is where to place the sticker. Voters should make sure they are placing the sticker in the designated area for state senator, being careful not to position it in the section for U.S. senator, another race that will be on the ballot.

Galvin said another workshop will be held just for the write-in candidates themselves. He said it’s particularly important to get the candidates together all in the same room so that each candidate gets the same information, such as what is allowed on stickers, their size and other ramifications to make sure they can be used on the ballot.

Galvin said that many people might not realize the 150-foot buffer around polling places where candidates are not allowed to campaign also applies to stickers. Stickers may not be handed out within that buffer, can’t be distributed by elections officials and also cannot be placed in voting booths for use.

However, candidates may offer stickers to voters outside the buffer.

Another issue that may arise with stickers, according to the secretary, is that voters may sometimes fill in the circle for a candidate on the ballot but also write in another candidate or place a sticker on the ballot. This voids the vote and no vote will be counted.

If a voter wishes to vote for someone on the ballot — in this case Chelsea Kline, the single candidate on the ballot in September — the voter should make sure not to write in any name or place a sticker on the ballot.

Delayed results

Pamela Powers, the city clerk for Northampton, said her office is preparing for the write-in votes and said there will likely be a delay in getting the results of the election because elections officials will have to hand-count the write-in votes. She said that with similarity in candidate names, voter intent will be an important factor.

“It will certainly be a challenge,” Powers said. “For voter intent, especially if they want us to understand the distinction, we’ll definitely need a first and last name.”

Another potential challenge for the primary election on Sept. 4, Galvin said, is that it falls right after Labor Day weekend. He encouraged voters who plan to go out of town over the weekend to submit their vote before they leave in order to avoid problems with flight delays or unforeseen circumstances around the holiday.

“We anticipate a significant amount of voter turnout in this district,” Galvin said. “Our goal is to empower voters to vote for the candidate they choose.”

He also said there will be clear instructions distributed to public places such as libraries and town clerk’s offices ahead of election day.

Amherst Town Clerk Sandra Burgess said she “totally supports” the idea behind the workshops.

“If voters are going to write in their vote, we want to make sure their vote is counted,” Burgess said. “For elections officials, we’ll need to be more diligent in our tallying and recording of the write-ins.”

Amherst Select Board members Alisa Brewer and Andrew Steinberg came to hear more about the workshops from Galvin on Thursday. Steinberg said it’s important to inform the public at large about the write-in process.

“The process and how to get their votes to count is vital to our democracy,” Steinberg said.

Brewer said voters and elections officials and even candidates need to feel “reassured” that they know the process and are ready for the primary.

“After all these years with only Ellen Story and Stan Rosenberg on the ballot for Amherst, people are realizing again the importance of primary elections,” Brewer said, referencing former state representative Ellen Story and former state senator Stanley Rosenberg who served as Amherst legislators in the Statehouse for 24 years and 31 years respectively.

Galvin, a six-term incumbent, is currently running in a contested race himself, and recently lost the state Democratic endorsement at the party’s convention to Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim in what has been described by political pundits as a “stunning” turn of events.

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.