Counting the vote: Town processing early ballots ahead of Election Day

Nov 1, 2020

Early in-person voting may have ended, but as Election Day nears, officials have already begun counting early ballots to ensure results are ready as soon as possible.

With high numbers of people voting early and by mail due to the pandemic, the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office announced this year that local election officials could mark early voters off the voter list before Nov. 3 through advanced processing.

According to Interim Development Director Cody Haddad, while the envelopes containing votes cannot legally be counted until 8 p.m. on Election Day, town workers have been working long hours since Oct. 26 to make sure the town’s returns come out fast and complete once the polls close.

“This should put us in a good spot for Election Day,” he said. “We’re hoping that by Monday evening that we’ll have processed 10,000 ballots.” 

The process begins with all of the ballots getting sorted by precinct. One staff member will look over each envelope and confirm the name with another volunteer. 

Once the information is verified, the ballots are then taken out and run through the ballot machine.

If ballots are unable to get scanned or contain write-ins, the votes are then hand counted.

“We’re basically acting like how things would go on Election Day,” Haddad said. “If we had to do a recount of any sort, we’re prepared.”

On Nov. 3, the machines will be moved to their precinct and turned back on to continue counting. The interim development director assured that machines are “very secure,” noting that they are not connected to any networks and the computer chips the data is stored on will be locked until they are at their precincts.

“Plus, all of this is done in public view,” Haddad added.

As of Oct. 30, more than 5000 ballots were processed, with plans to get each early vote counted by Nov. 2. Town Clerk Sarah Arruda said volunteers from various departments at Town Hall have stopped by to help count the early votes, sometimes working up until 11 p.m.

“After Tuesday I can see my family again,” Arruda laughed. “But it’s all worth it knowing this election is well-run and well-organized — just requires putting the time in.” 

According to data published from the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, 11,282 ballots have been cast, already nearly double the turnout seen in the 2016 presidential election.

“I am super excited about the turnout,” Arruda said. “You certainly don’t want to go through all that effort and nobody shows.”

The Town Clerk said there has also been a 10% increase in voter registrations since September, with around 24,000 registered voters in town this year.  

She noted that new voters were pretty evenly split among Democrats and Republicans, but that there were “probably more registered independents.” 

“I think people really like that unenrolled status so they can have more options for the primaries,” Arruda added.

A highlight of the registration process, Arruda said, was seeing how thrilled recently naturalized residents were to be able to cast their first ever votes.

“They were so happy and you can’t help but feel so excited for them,” she said. “This just further exemplifies the importance of voting.”