Some towns could get reimbursed for early voting
AREA — If some Franklin County towns are reimbursed a chunk of the costs incurred from early voting in November 2016, it looks like Orange will get the most at $2,200.
The state auditor has recommended $1,063,978 in compensation to the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts. Suzanne Bump ruled the 2014 state law requiring all state voters to have the option of early voting in the 2016 general election is an unfunded cost that must be reimbursed to cities and towns. Municipalities are required by the early voting law to permit residents to vote up to 12 days before Election Day.
Bump has recommended $14,707.15 to be dispersed throughout 16 Franklin County towns. Eleven of the county’s towns, however, are not recommended to receive any money. Alicia B. Curran, a deputy auditor who handles communications and external affairs for Bump’s office, explained each town reported their early voting costs, which were certified by the office’s Division of Local Mandates.
When reached by telephone Wednesday, Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer said she could not remember the exact costs of 2016 early voting, but she felt the potential $2,200 would be fair reimbursement. She said she had to buy new voting booths and a new ballot box for the election, and she had to hire workers to assist in the responsibilities of assisting people interested in voting early. She said the ballots had to be sorted each day by precinct and by street within the precinct. She also said the early-voting period required a lot of hours she will not be compensated for because she is salaried.
All reimbursements must be approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor before cities and towns receive the money.
“The process involved sending a carefully constructed electronic survey to the clerk of each community. The survey specified the types of expenses eligible to be counted as mandated. Excluded from this total were regular salaries paid to employees for their normal hours of work, or wages paid to expand the hours of voting beyond the legislatively mandated total (some of which were offset by grants from the Secretary of the Commonwealth),” Curran said in an email. “Allowable expenses included setup and takedown costs for the mandated voting location, data entry hours paid as overtime and payments to temporary staff for the early voting period. DLM staff conducted outreach to give every community an opportunity to respond to the survey.”
Curran said surveys were reviewed by DLM staff once they were received and any questions or concerns were discussed with the clerks to provide an accurate calculation of costs.
“Staff interacted directly with at least two-third of the communities in the Commonwealth,” she said in an email.
This was the first time there was early voting in Massachusetts.
Athol, which is in Worcester County, has been recommended for $4,831. Town Clerk Nancy Burnham said she is pleased with this proposed figure.
“I think it’s great. It covers cost of the workers that were hired,” she said, adding that one-third of the town’s registered voters took advantage of early voting. “We had to hire workers at the last minute ... because we could not handle it in our office.”
Burnham said she also had to purchase a large ballot box and extra voting booths.
Athol Town Hall was open additional hours, including two Fridays and a Saturday, to accommodate early voters. Burnham said she and Assistant Town Clerk Carol Bachelder were paid overtime for their extra hours.
Secretary of State William Galvin’s office has said that more than 1 million voters, or 22 percent, took advantage of early voting in Massachusetts in 2016.
The following is a list of the recommended reimbursements for the Franklin County towns in the North Quabbin region — Athol: $4,831; Erving: $880; New Salem: $0; Orange: $2,200; Warwick: $285.