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Lowell City Council Approves Bylaws Petition to Expand Voting – Lowell Sun

LOWELL — At a special meeting on Tuesday, City Council voted unanimously to send a Bylaws petition to the Legislature seeking to continue week-long in-person early voting, mail-in voting without excuse and drop box options that have been used due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote immediately followed a meeting of the Electoral Laws/Redistricting Subcommittee earlier in the evening, during which councilors heard from several residents and candidates for office who oppose a draft temporary reduction of city polling stations from 13 to eight for the 2021 preliminary and general municipal elections.

Some advisers see securing additional voting options as a way to protect against voter deterrence through shrinking polling places and ensuring the continued increased turnout shown in the 2020 presidential election, but if the Whether the Legislature will act on the petition — or reach a compromise to ensure the provisions continue statewide — in a timely manner is an unanswered question.

While the state legislature recently voted to keep a number of provisions passed during the pandemic, the House and Senate remain at odds over those related to the vote and allowed them to expire on June 30. Because the matter remains tied to a conference committee, City Manager Eileen Donoghue said the Bylaws petition should be sought as soon as possible to try to secure options for Lowell’s mayoral election this fall. She said the petition was recommended after consultation with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, and that several communities with elections this year were submitting similar petitions.

“We all hope COVID is behind us, but come November we don’t know what the situation will be, so that’s another reason to be careful and be prepared to give our residents as many opportunities to vote. in this important municipal election,” Donoghue said.

Donoghue said voting arrangements enacted during the pandemic had been “very successful” at Lowell and gave voters the ability to vote in person at the Senior Center for about a week before the election, request mail-in ballots for any reason and deposit them. off at two secure boxes near City Hall after hours or on weekends.

Councilor Sokhary Chau said “life can get in the way” of many people voting for a variety of reasons, and the increased flexibility offered to voters last year has made it more practical for more people to participate.

“I think anything that makes it easier to vote and increases turnout should be here to stay,” Councilman John Drinkwater said.

Although he “enthusiastically” supports the petition, Drinkwater said he believes the legislature should not act on a case-by-case basis, but through statewide legislation that makes permanent arrangements. He asked that a letter be sent to the Lowell State delegation asking them to support expanding the early and absentee voting provisions to include all municipal elections, not just those that fall on the same day as biennial state elections.

At the subcommittee meeting, Deb Belanger, who is running for one of three city council seats, was one of many candidates who spoke out against plans to temporarily reduce polling places to one. for each of the eight new districts.

“We should make every effort as a city to increase voter access, how and where they can vote,” Bélanger said. “Voting is so essential to the functioning of a democracy. Reducing the number of polling stations only makes it harder for people to vote close to home.

Acting Chief Electoral Officer Elliott Veloso said the plan was introduced to comply with the federal consent decree that led to the new hybrid district and citywide system, as well as the law of the state that prohibits neighborhoods and precincts from being redrawn in the absence of federal census data — the release of which has been delayed for at least six months, preventing the city from doing so before the election.

City attorney Christine O’Connor said the legal department and Veloso had recommended no more than one polling place be held for this election for a number of reasons, the main one being security and safety. ensuring that every voter receives their proper ballot and is counted.

Under the proposed plan – which is now being reviewed by the election commission following backlash from residents – the single polling station per district would have multiple registration points via electronic polling pads and voter rolls would be made available. securely over Bluetooth, O’Connor said. . Enabling voters to have the right to vote in multiple locations would require linking polling stations in the same district over the internet to ensure that lists are updated as residents vote, opening up the possibility of system failures and other hazards, she said.

After hearing their explanations, councilor Rita Mercier expressed her frustration, saying she would support the house rules petition to provide “additional amenities to compensate for something we cannot change.”

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera