Whately changes election location, encourages mail-in ballots

  • The Select Board has changed the polling location for the annual town election on June 9 from the Town Offices to Whately Elementary School. FILE PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Thursday, May 07, 2020

WHATELY — The Select Board has approved a change of hours and location for the town election, still scheduled to take place on June 9.

Members agreed at a recent meeting to change the polling location from the Town Offices to Whately Elementary School, and for the election to be held between the hours of noon and 6 p.m, rather than from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The board also agreed to have postage covered on the return envelopes for absentee ballots, so as to encourage mail-in voting.

The measures were unanimously approved by the board on April 29 as part of a COVID-19 contingency plan for the annual town election. Town Clerk Lynn Sibley outlined for board members the requested changes drawn up in the plan, which required board approval.

“I believe the school is a better option in this situation,” Sibley said. “We can do a lot more social distancing at the school than we could at the Town Offices.”

Sibley also said that while the town is encouraging residents to vote early by mail, the town is required by law to hold in-person hours on the actual election day.

“I don’t want to limit (voters) too much … I figure a six-hour period, and taking in that 5 o’clock crowd that is usually our biggest group of people ... then they have that opportunity,” Sibley said.

Lastly, she asked board members to approve the town paying for the return postage for mail-in ballots.

“That is something we normally don’t do, but in this particular situation, it might be a nice gesture to have the return envelope with the ballot postage-paid,” Sibley said.

Responding to Select Board member Frederick Orloski’s question of whether masks will be provided to those who arrive at the polling station without one, Sibley said the town has between 200 and 300 masks that will be available to voters and poll workers. She added that, based on the number of early voting applications the town has already received, she doesn’t anticipate needing more than that on election day.

Board members also asked for certain items in the plan to be more specific, such as when and how often poll workers should wash their hands, and what types of questions they should ask of a person’s health when they arrive to the polling station.

“The big thing here is making sure we have social distancing for every voter, and every voter has a face mask of some sort,” Sibley said.

No matter what, she clarified, no voter will be turned away. “We’re just going to take extra precaution,” she said.

Residents can access the application for mail-in voting on the town website or by sending a note to 4 Sandy Lane, South Deerfield 01373. Absentee ballots will be available by mid-May to those who have requested one.