New election safety features

Changes made to town meeting and town election procedures in response to COVID-19.

Social distancing will be practiced at polling places during the town elections. — Gabrielle Mannino

With town meetings and elections coming up, towns around the Island have amended their usual processes to comply with pandemic protocols and precautions. Though the pandemic may prevent us all from participating in life as usual, it will not prevent participation in local government. Details on each town’s new procedures are available below, and on each town’s official webpage. 

In Aquinnah, the town meeting has been moved to Tuesday, June 23, at 1 pm, in front of the Aquinnah Fire Department building (953 State Road). The election will be held on Wednesday, June 24, at the Aquinnah Town Hall (955 State Road). The polls will be open from 12 to 4 pm. Town clerk Gabriella Camilleri shared that the change in location should allow for more careful distancing procedures. 

“The election is usually held at our town offices, but the town hall is a much larger building, so we will be putting in place efforts to keep people socially distant and safe,” said Camilleri. 

All voters must wear masks, and may wear gloves, too, if they feel more comfortable. Camilleri shared that the town will have masks and hand sanitizer on hand, and will distribute individual pens to voters to avoid sharing any materials. She also shared that the town is encouraging everyone, if possible, to vote early. To do so, voters can download the application from the town website. Absentee ballots must be in by the end of the day on June 23.

If voters have any questions, they may reach Camilleri at townclerk@aquinnah-ma.gov.

The Chilmark town meeting has been pushed to Monday, June 8. It will be held at 5:30 pm at the Chilmark Community Center (520 South Road). The entrance to the town meeting site, which is on the basketball court directly behind the center, is on the northeast side of the community center. Check-in is opposite the tennis shack. Jennifer Christy, Chilmark town clerk, directed any interested parties to refer to the warrant for the town meeting for any further information, which can be found on the town clerk’s webpage. “In terms of protocols, we are asking people to wear masks, and there will be socially distanced seating,” said Christy. “We are recommending that attendees review the warrant ahead of time, so they are familiar and have some questions ready, if needed.”

The town election will be held on Wednesday, June 10, at the Chilmark Community Center. Polls are open 12 to 6 pm. There will be separate entrances and exits for the election. “The press and any observers will be stationed, in order to view the process, on the stage of the community center,” said Christy. “Regular voters will enter through one door, and will file in. We will have extra assistant constables stationed around to help voters understand where to go.” Masks are required in the voting area. Chilmark absentee ballots are due by noon on the day before the election, but Christy recommends all voters send them in as early as possible.

Edgartown’s town meeting has been moved to Saturday, June 13, at 1:30 pm. It will be held outside at the Edgartown School (35 Robinson Road). The meeting warrant is available on the Edgartown town website. The town election will be held on Thursday, June 18, at the Edgartown Town Hall (70 Main St.). Polls are open from 10 am to 7 pm.

“We’re asking everyone to wear masks and maintain six feet,” said town clerk Karen Medeiros. “They can bring their own pen if they like. We’ll be disinfecting pens, but still.”

All voters may apply for an absentee ballot here. The last day and time to request an absentee ballot is Wednesday, June 17, at noon. They must be returned to the town office by the close of polls on June 18. They may be returned via mail, email, or fax. They can be emailed to kmedeiros@edgartown-ma.us or kspeight@edgartown-ma.us, or faxed to 508-627-6119. Please note that if you choose to send a returned ballot application by email or fax, your signature must be clear and legible. 

Oak Bluffs has moved its town meeting to Tuesday, June 16, at 6 pm at the Tabernacle. The warrant for the meeting is available on the town’s website. The town election will be held on Thursday, June 18, at the Oak Bluffs Library meeting room (56R School St.). Polls will be open 10 am to 7 pm. Town clerk Colleen Morris shared that the town has extensive safety precautions in place to ensure the health and safety of both voters and poll workers. She shared that election booths will be six feet apart, with one way in and one way out of the polls, to limit unnecessary interaction. There will be six-foot social distancing markers outside for anyone waiting in line.

With regard to absentee ballots, Morris said that the town will accept applications for absentee ballots up until noon on the day before the election. The town will accept the ballots until the polls close June 18.

The annual Tisbury town meeting will be held on Saturday, June 13, at 1 pm at the Tisbury School in the field behind the gym, to the right of the front door of the school (40 West William St.). All attendees must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing in lines and in seating. Workers at check-in will be stationed behind Plexiglas windows. The town election will be held on June 23 at the Emergency Services Facility (West Spring Street, across from the school). Polls will be open 12 to 8 pm. Again, all poll workers will be stationed behind Plexiglas windows, and will wear gloves. Every voter will receive a new pen that has the ink recognizable for ballot machines. Town clerk J. Hillary Conklin shared that voters who choose to vote by mail may go to tisburyma.gov to download an early voting application and read more information on how to vote early. There is no option for early voting in person. The two ways to vote are in person on June 23, or by early vote or absentee ballot, by mail. Anyone with further questions should go to tisburyma.gov/town-clerk.

The West Tisbury town meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 23, at 4 pm at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. The town’s choice to hold the meeting at the Tabernacle will allow for a major increase in social distancing. Town clerk Tara J. Whiting-Wells shared that the town, given the change in location, is still putting together the specifics in terms of where voters should park, and other onsite logistics for the town meeting. The election will be held on Thursday, June 25, at the Public Safety Building (452 State Road). Polls will be open 11 am to 7 pm. Whiting-Wells said that one of the more pronounced differences is that voters will enter through the ambulance bay this year. Voters do not need to bring their own pens, but may do so if they wish (however, voters may not bring a red pen, which the machine will not be able to recognize).

Absentee ballot applications must be received by noon on the day before the election. All absentees ballots must be mailed in and received by the close of the polls on election day. She urges anyone with questions to visit the town clerk page on the town website.