Mail-in voting, tech issues pose challenges for North Attleborough

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Outside North Attleborough High School—the sole voting location for the town—voters lined up and waited to be called in to cast their vote. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

In a more ‘normal’ time, the results of a national election would be finished and tabulated soon after voters went to the polls, with results available that day, or the next at the latest.

But times like these are hardly normal, and as such, the process of casting a ballot has become far more complicated. At the time this article is published, final tallies for some races are still unknown, even the local ones.

In North Attleborough, the combination of thousands of early ballots and unforeseen technical glitches caused a delay of nearly a week to get official results. More than 8,000 residents cast their votes either through in-person early voting at Town Hall or via mail-in ballots. The latter could be sent to Town Hall or dropped off in person. Some did this as late as the day of the election, despite being available weeks ahead of time.

Pat Dolan of the Election Commission said staff was on hand for early voting seven days a week over the three weeks leading up to the election. She said some chose early voting due to concerns about mail fraud. Residents lined up outside Town Hall to utilize this method, voting four at a time in the Town Council meeting room.

Some stood in the rain or snow to early vote,” she said.

Dolan said she was surprised that so many chose the mail-in option.

We had the poll workers in earlier to get the mail-in ballots,” said Dolan on Wednesday, Nov. 4. “Ballots in this volume are unprecedented.”

But even with so much done ahead of time, there was significant a delay in getting the unofficial results. On the evening of Nov. 3, campaign supporters and the media were at Town Hall until 1:30 a.m. All but one precinct had reported in, but it was learned that the flash drive containing the results for Precinct 1 had malfunctioned, and the 993 votes would need to be counted again on Monday, Nov. 7.

Everyone was sent home, but the partial totals were enough that John Simmons, a Republican candidate for state representative, conceded the race to challenger Adam Scanlon, who was ahead by 1,643 votes. North Attleborough was the only town not to report its results in the race between State Sen. Becca Rausch and opponent Matt Kelly, but the 16,000-vote lead led to Kelly also admitting defeat.

The mail-in option was offered during the pandemic for both local and state-wide elections. Only a couple hundred residents did this for the town election in June, but during the State Primary, the number of mail-in ballots caused a three-hour delay in posting unofficial results.

At the State Primary and General Election, a number of precautions were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This included required masks, plastic barriers between poll workers and voters, and frequent cleaning of the machines and voting booths. On Nov. 3, 60 workers were at the high school, the town’s sole polling location.

Dolan said that her staff and volunteers were more ready than before, and she praised the hard work of everyone involved.

It was a little better than last time,” she said. “We weren’t caught unawares like last time.”