Friday, April 19, 2024

092516-early-voting-placesEager to make your voice heard on Clinton vs. Trump, or on whether the state should add charter schools or legalize adult recreational use of marijuana?

For the first time, Cambridge voters can cast their ballots for 11 business days before Nov. 8 – this year’s formal Election Day – at five locations around the city. The early voting days are Oct. 24 to Nov. 4.

Thanking city staff for their work on making early voting a reality, city councillor Nadeem Mazen called early voting “long overdue” as an aid for people who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day “or who just need a little extra goading to go out and do that civic duty.”

The introduction of early voting, as required by the state, seemed particularly well timed because “this is an incredible and momentous time for the state and maybe for the country,” Mazen said. There are four ballot questions for statewide vote, including about slot machine gambling and humane treatment of animals, as well as votes for U.S. representatives and state senators and representatives (albeit no contested races).

The city began work on local efforts after an order submitted June 13 by Mazen, vice mayor Marc McGovern and councillor Jan Devereux, but the plans submitted Sept. 12 could still be tweaked; the city manager will have to return to the City Council next month with a budget request estimated at $89,261.

Early access to polls could result in higher turnout among voters, councillors said in the summer order asking for at least five polling places for early voting.

The locations are at the Election Commission offices near Central Square; at the Police Department building near Kendall Square; at the Water Department near Fresh Pond; at the Main Library in Mid-Cambridge; and at the O’Neill library branch in North Cambridge. Each location will be open between eight and 11.5 hours a day, with most voting locations open until 6 or 8 p.m. But hours will vary from day to day, and some days of early voting will end at 5 p.m.

City councillors suggested some minor improvements. Mayor E. Denise Simmons hoped the voting location at Election Commission offices on Inman Street might be transferred to City Hall or Central Square’s branch library, which are closer to the red line and other mass transportation options. Mazen and McGovern hoped the three days on which early voting closed at traditional office hours might be expanded also, perhaps by also starting later in the day, to ensure workers don’t arrive to find early voting closed when they arrive.

The executive director of the Election Commission, Tanya Ford, said she would make sure commissioners heard the suggestions, but some hours this year were constrained by a task there was no getting around: “At the end of very day, they have to bring back the voting list, and the voting list has to be updated every single night – the entire voting list,” Ford said. “That could take two, three hours or more every single night.”

The first year of early voting will help the city hone the practice, City Manager Richard C. Rossi said. “I really think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “And if we see a way clear to get more hours, we will.”