’Small glitch’ behind erroneous ballot info

Some people in Oak Bluffs got ballots with incorrect information. The town clerk is alerting those voters. - George Brennan

Updated Oct. 14

Something is amiss with an unspecified number of ballots being mailed to Oak Bluffs voters. When Oak Bluffs resident Rob Gatchell received his mail-in ballot, the instructions mailed with it noted the ballot must be returned by Sept. 1. Baffled, Gatchell said he rang the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office and learned some November election ballots had been erroneously mailed with instructions from the primaries. When asked Tuesday by email if others in Oak Bluffs received such erroneous information, and what was behind it, town clerk Colleen Morris chalked up the problem to a “small glitch” that is “being resolved.”

Morris went on to write, “Lots going on over here in OB. We recently moved [our] offices. Nothing comes easy … I am working closely with volunteers to get out over 1,700 ballots.There are always challenges, but all will be resolved by the end of the day.”

Asked further how many ballots went out with erroneous information and how voters will be notified of the problem, Morris did not provide a ballot figure, but did say she would reach out to voters to point out the problem.

“I will be notifying voters by mail and through social media,” she said. “Most voters received what they needed. I am just resending materials to those voters who are missing anything … problem solved. There is nothing specific to this situation, but there sure is plenty going on … with a pandemic, an office move, working with volunteers, computer glitches, and basic human error … etc. … Luckily, we have plenty of time to reach all the voters, and by the end of the day, everything will be mailed out.”

In a third email to The Times, Morris wrote that she “[c]an offer no estimate at this time” on the number of ballots affected.

Voters can either drop off the mail-in ballot or send it back in the mail. Mail-in ballots have to be postmarked by Nov. 3, according to the secretary of state’s office. The Post Office recommends mailing them by Oct. 27.

Massachusetts Secretary of State spokesperson Debra O’Malley said something else appears to have happened to Oak Bluffs mail-in ballots.

“It sounds like some voters did not receive their ballot envelopes,” she said. By that, she said, she meant the yellow envelope that must be signed for mail-in ballots. She also said the secretary of state’s office is unsure how many mail-in ballots have been affected in Oak Bluffs.

“We are still waiting for a response back about the total number of voters affected,” she said.

O’Malley encouraged voters who are missing their envelope to reach out to the town clerk’s office at 508-693-3554, ext. 120. 

Oak Bluffs resident Linda Zarro did just that. 

“Received my mail-in ballot with instructions to fill out [the] ballot and put it inside a yellow envelope,” she wrote Tuesday, “sign it and put the yellow envelope containing my ballot inside white envelope to mail. No yellow envelope! Emailed C. Morris. Her response, ‘The envelopes are going out today.’ Envelopes? How many did they miss? In this election! Really, no excuses.”

Statewide, O’Malley said, such errors only amount to about 2,000 voters affected in six to seven municipalities — the largest being Waltham, with 1,000 affected. By comparison, in Dennis, she said, only one or two voters were affected. 

The cause of the wrong information being sent to voters appears to be the use of old envelopes that still have material from the primaries inside, she said. 

Town clerks Gabriella Camilleri of Aquinnah, Hilary Conklin of Tisbury, Jennifer Christy of Chilmark, Karen Medeiros of Edgartown, and Tara Whiting-Wells of West Tisbury reported no anomalies with mail-in ballots. Conklin noted, “We quadruple-checked everything.” 

Updated to include more information.