by Sandy Cormier, Indivisible Wareham
Wareham almost opted out of mail-in voting for the upcoming municipal election. If not for the watchful eye of one resident, we might have lost the option for mail-in voting. On the board of selectmen (BOS) meeting agenda, shortly after “Meeting taking place remotely due to COVID-19” was notice of a hearing “to consider opting out of ‘vote by mail’ for the municipal town election.” Annie Hayes quickly sent Wareham Week an opinion piece mentioning MLK Jr. and stated that, unlike absentee ballots, no-excuse vote by mail is requested with the intent, not to intrude, but to encourage voting.
Our town clerk presented two reasons for stopping vote by mail. First, she said there is not enough help on election day. Second, her office would find it difficult to print mail-in vote ballot applications. Her proposed solution was to substitute mail in voting applications with absentee ballot applications, which her office had in excess. The town clerk assured us that she wanted everyone to vote and would accept any absentee ballot, no questions asked. As you may know absentee ballot applications ask the voter to attest to one of five reasons why you cannot vote in person, the response can be challenged and can carry criminal penalties. Voting by mail is ‘no excuse’ early voting. No one on the BOS thought to question the misuse of the absentee ballot form or that she just asked early voters to lie on the application. Our town counsel said nothing.
A few of us citizens spoke up to say the cost to print was budgeted and we are not comfortable requesting an absentee ballot without a valid reason, and other voting questions. BOS Member Chadwick asked a strange question about ten extended family members in a household and if he could apply for ballot applications for all ten people. We think he was alluding to voter fraud. Thankfully, another selectperson correctly said there was “no fraud here.”
The vote was postponed until 2/7/23 allowing time for citizens to email comments to the BOS. Annie wrote to legal counsel Michelle K. Tassinari, Legal Counsel Elections Division Boston, and we circulated Michelle’s Q&A verbiage the best we could with a reminder to residents to contact BOS with comments and show up to the next meeting via Facebook and email. An opposing viewpoint hit the Wareham paper and the writer directly stated that he viewed VBM as fraudulent. To counter his opinion, I submitted another opinion piece to explain what I knew.
At the next BOS meeting, it was unclear how many voters emailed a comment about vote by mail. After two members seeking reelection left the meeting, the decision was up to three BOS members. One board member said he counted 22 to keep VBM and two to end it. He subsequently voted to keep vote by mail. Another BOS member said 40 responded, but it wasn’t the ones he expected, and he told the public to show up next time. He voted to keep VBM, keeping with the majority opinions but he clearly struggled with that decision. Finally, the last member voted to end the VBM vote. He said he had to go with what friends and acquaintances expressed to him, totally disregarding public responses. He called us the “select few” who responded.
It’s over for now. We are thankful we are keeping vote by mail early voting and it’s all because a few voters were vigilant and held our elected officials accountable.
Now we just need to get people to vote at our next municipal election.