Town of Barnstable Working to Ensure Safe Voting Amid COVID-19

BARNSTABLE – As voting season approaches, the Barnstable Town Clerk’s Office is making changes and doing research to keep staff, voters, and poll workers as safe as possible during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some changes have already been made to the day-to-day operations at the office, such as the addition of a drop-off location for paper applications at 367 Main Street and only holding face-to-face meetings by appointment.

“We are working as best we can under the circumstances. We’re making appointments with people who need to come and see us for, for instance, marriage intention,” said Town Clerk Ann Quirk. 

Within the office, coworkers are going over paperwork with residents at a distance of at least 6 feet.

“We’re so used to having people come into the office to do a dog license, or a business certificate, or they have a question about something they don’t know who to go to. We have that all day long usually. That’s a big change for us.”

Quirk said that their designation as an essential service is crucial as voting season approaches.

“Because we have voting, we have all these people out there now that have their petition papers for nominations. They have to be certified by the Town Clerk,” said Quirk.

“We’re moving along, we’re still working pretty hard in here, but it’s different.”

The town is advising candidates to send out papers to have people sign and have them mail the papers back rather than have meetings in-person.

Quirk said that a House bill has halved the amount of signatures required for nomination certification by the town clerk to make it easier for nominees during the social distancing measures in place because of the pandemic.

Quirk said many deadline dates for nominees have also been extended.

As for the voting process itself, a lot of changes have been proposed to legislature.

“They’re proposing things like early voting now for both the primary and federal election. They’re also promoting a way of wording this so that people can feel free about asking for either an early voting ballot or an absentee ballot so they don’t have to go to the polls,” said Quirk.

Quirk said that the difference between early voting ballots and absentee ballots is that filled-out early voting ballots are considered cast, while absentee ballots will still allow time for residents to change their mind by going to their polling location.

Quirk expressed concern with what kind of personal protection equipment would be required for poll workers to stay safe, considering if plastic face shields would be necessary for staff to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Avoiding in-person voting altogether would be the key to ensuring safety, said Quirk.

“We’re hoping that people are going to do either absentee or early voting. That will protect them and that will protect my coworkers, because I am very concerned for my coworkers. I may need to spend additional funds in order to protect them,” said Quirk.

According to Quirk, working around the dangers and ensuring proper protection is crucial as ensuring people can safely vote is critical at the town and national level.

“Voting is so important. I don’t care if it’s a local election, or if it’s a primary or the federal and state election coming up. It’s so, so important for people to cast their ballot and let their voices be heard. However it works for you, we will work with you the best that we can in order to make this a good election season.” said Quirk.

Quirk said that they will also be looking to other states and regions for best practices to improve Barnstable’s voting season.

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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