By Will Sullivan
During the past few months, service cuts at the U.S. Postal Service have raised concerns about the potential for delays in the mail-in voting process. But as the second Massachusetts election during the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, Malden City Clerk Greg Lucey wants voters to know that voting by mail is still a good option while the virus remains a public health issue.
“It’s a very safe way to vote,” said Lucey. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Massachusetts, mail-in voting “is probably the way to go,” he said.
For those concerned about their ballot reaching City Hall via mail in time to be counted, the city has two drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots. As long as voters drop off their ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3), their votes will be counted. Both boxes can be accessed at any time. One is in front of Malden City Hall, at 215 Pleasant St. The second, which will be installed this week, is in front of the Malden Police Station, at 800 Eastern Ave. There is a temporary box in the lobby of the Police Station that will remain until the other is installed outside.
If you are already registered to vote in Massachusetts (the deadline is Oct. 24), the deadline to apply to vote by mail is Wednesday, Oct. 28. Your application must either reach City Hall via mail or be dropped off in-person at the Elections Department in City Hall by the end of business on Oct. 28. Every voter in the state was sent a mail-in ballot application before September’s primary, so if you voted by mail in September, you might have also opted to vote by mail in November.
Lucey estimates that about 95% of people who requested mail-in ballots for September also requested a mail-in ballot for November. Malden received the ballots from the state last week. The City Clerk’s office then has to prepare the envelopes, and Lucey said that his office finished mailing out ballots on Wednesday.
But if you don’t think you have applied for a mail-in ballot, you can fill out the application linked here, and you can either mail it, email it, or deliver it in person to City Hall.
The city has also made an effort to make mail-in voting more accessible to multilingual voters. By federal law, Malden’s ballots must be printed in English and Chinese, because more than 5% of Malden’s citizens who are of voting age are Chinese speakers.
The purpose is to make voting equally accessible to all citizens, regardless of their first language. Malden’s Election Information website has been translated into Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The City Clerk’s office also has a part-time clerk, Crystal Lam, who is available to answer questions in both Mandarin and Cantonese.
Diana Jeong, Vice President and Co-Founder of the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition (GMAACC) and Malden Access TV Treasurer, said that when it comes to making the election accessible, Malden’s government is “sincere in wanting to see things done correctly,” and that she believes the current options available are “very convenient and helpful to a lot of people.” She said that she has been “very happy” with Lam’s work in the City Clerk’s office.
One added layer of accessibility she would be interested in seeing is having names of candidates transliterated into Chinese. While most of the ballot is in English and Chinese, names of candidates and, for local elections, their addresses, are in English only. While voting information is available in the languages listed above, the mail-in ballot application is only available in English.
To assist those voting in person, the city has hired seven or eight bilingual poll workers who will be placed strategically across the city on Election Day, Lucey said. GMAACC, Lucey’s office, and the mayor’s office have met several times via Zoom to discuss making voting accessible to Chinese speakers, and Jeong called the meetings “respectful and collaborative.”
“We’re working to do the best we can for all voters, but especially the bilingual population,” said Lucey. “We have to make voting easy, accessible, and understandable.”
For voters who prefer to mail their ballots instead of physically dropping them off, ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3, meaning the post office must have accepted and stamped the envelope by or on Election Day. Ballots must also reach the Elections Department by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. A ballot postmarked Nov. 3 that arrives at the Elections Department on Nov. 7 will not be counted. Trackmyballotma.com shows if your mail-in ballot has been received and accepted. If it still hasn’t been received by Election Day, you can vote in person at your polling location, and your mail-in ballot will be discarded.
Despite the increase in mail-in voting, Lucey anticipates that the counting process will go smoothly and that a majority of votes will be tabulated by the end of Election Day. The City Clerk’s office is allowed to start counting mail-in ballots received before Election Day in advance, so officials will be able to announce unofficial results for in-person voting and mail-in voting received before Nov. 3 shortly after the polls close. These ballots should account for around 90% of total votes, and the unofficial results should look very similar to the final tallies. Then, starting at 5 p.m. Nov. 6, Lucey’s office can begin counting the mail-in ballots received between Tuesday and Friday. He estimates that process will take five to six hours and will take place on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 7.
There is one more option: voting early in person. According to the Malden voter information site, in-person early voting for the General Election will be held Oct. 17 to 30 at the Senior Community Center at 7 Washington Street. See the site for the hours of operation as they vary by the day. Lucey doesn’t anticipate long lines, since many people will be voting by mail and there will be 14 days for early voting instead of the typical 10. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, masks will be required, voting stations will be frequently wiped down, and voters will enter and exit through different doors. Similar preventative measures were taken during the September election. Photo ID will be required for first-time voters who registered online, as well as inactive voters: those people who are registered to vote but maybe haven’t voted in several elections, completed the census, or responded to the annual street list.
Lucey said the September election went smoothly and also had significant mail-in voting. He estimates that the city mailed out 9,000 ballots and received 7,000 in return in September and mailed out 12,000 for November. He recommends that anyone concerned about their ballot arriving on time through the mail should use one of the drop-boxes. He also encourages everyone to vote. “If you don’t vote in this one, I don’t know what’s going to get your juices up,” he said.
Will Sullivan is a citizen journalist contributing to Neighborhood View.
Below, “Vote by Mail in Malden” video by Amanda Hurley, intern for MATV/UMA.