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Town clerk ensuring voting goes smoothly

Westwood’s ballot dropbox sits in front of the police station.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

For as much as people fight about politics on social media, not many eligible voters actually vote and even fewer understand how the voting process works. But because voter suppression, mail-in voting and possible election fraud have become such a huge part of the national discourse, people should know who runs the process and how it works. In Massachusetts, city and town clerks run elections - and in Westwood, that responsibility goes to Town Clerk Dottie Powers.

Powers was elected in 2007, and while town clerk terms run only three years, she has tenure and can do the job until she is seventy years old (about nine years from now). Powers noted her experience is a big advantage for her going into the two coming elections, because COVID-19 has made these elections unlike any other.

The first issue is the sheer number of mail in ballots that are being requested. Westwood has approximately 11,000 registered voters, and Powers has already received close to 4,000 requests for ballots. To deal with this high volume, she has taken on additional staff.

“The current pandemic has created a lot of significant changes to the election process. However, as a town clerk chief and election official, I am committed to ensuring all Westwood voters have the opportunity to vote safely, whether from their home, at an early voting location, or on election day. To facilitate this whole process, I have brought in extra staff to assist in processing the extremely large volume of vote-by-mail requests. Right now, we are up to approximately 4,000, but they continue to come in daily. We are working long hours, but we’re working really hard to get all of these ballots out in a timely manner. I really like my turnaround to be one day, so what we have been doing is we receive the applications - it’s a process, we have to enter them into the state voter registration system, because there’s checks and balances; we want to make sure only one application is received for a voter. Then we process the ballot, and there really has to be all eyes on this process and it has to be perfection. You can’t make mistakes when you’re dealing with ballots and sending them out.”

Powers noted that while 4,000 people requested a ballot, that does not mean she will get 4,000 ballots back. While that may spark conspiracy theories from people who don’t know how common that is, she said that usually about ten percent of people that request an absentee ballot don’t send them back. One of the main reasons is that you can request an absentee or mail in ballot, and if you do not return it, the voter  may choose to vote in person. However, she does not encourage this, since a lot of work has gone into mailing out a ballot.

Powers said that she’s been bringing the ballots she needs to the Norwood Post Office and has seen very fast turnarounds. However, because people are still skeptical of the Post Office mishandling their ballots, there is an alternative. Westwood residents can drop off their ballots at a drop box in front of the police station, which is locked and monitored by a camera. These will be picked up by Powers, with the Post Office involved in no way.

If you would like to vote in person instead, you have a couple of options. The first is early voting, which is being done at the Westwood Police Station from through August 28. Between early voting and voting by mail, Powers anticipates the polls will be far less crowded than ever before. However, because of COVID, at the polling places, there will be plastic sneeze guard shields upon check-in, facial masks available if people forget theirs, and a cleaning company will be disinfecting pens and booths after someone votes.

But at a time when there’s record unemployment and a global pandemic, Powers said worrying about your vote not counting shouldn’t be on anyone’s mind in Westwood.

“I really think a lot of the information out there is incorrect. Mail-in voting is no different from absentee, only it is on a larger scale. Town clerks in Massachusetts take our jobs very seriously. We take an oath to serve the public, and elections are the most vital and important piece of our job. We want to make sure it’s done right and according to the letter of the law, because it’s people's democratic right to vote and have a say on who is elected to run our local and federal governments. I really disagree with all the information out there that with vote by mail, people aren’t going to get their ballot received. We’re getting questions all the time about 'How do I know my ballot is going to be counted?' Well, every single ballot that we take out of the mailbox - either received though the US Postal Service or the ballot dropbox - everything is accounted for, there’s checks and balances, and every single ballot gets counted. The skepticism out there is really all untrue, and it’s sad because there’s already enough that people have to worry about during this pandemic, and now they have to worry about ‘is my vote going to be counted?’ We take pride in elections and every person’s vote! There really should be no issues, and people really should not be concerned. I can’t speak for other states, but in Massachusetts, we have protocols and procedures in place, and there really aren’t issues as the media is portraying.

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