Absentee voting becoming more popular
FRAMINGHAM – The number of MetroWest voters using absentee ballots is on track to meet or exceed figures from the 2008 presidential election even though Massachusetts still has some of the country’s strictest laws for absentee voting.
“I know that it’s significantly higher than anything we’ve done in the past three years,” said Natick Town Clerk Diane Packer, whose office has received 1,000 absentee ballot applications.
In 2008, several MetroWest communities voted by absentee ballots at higher rates than the state average. In Framingham, 9 percent of voters submitted absentee ballots; 10 percent of Natick voters mailed their ballots. The state average in 2008 was 6 percent.
As of Tuesday, Framingham Town Clerk Valerie Mulveyhad received 1,375 applications for absentee ballots, as number she said is on par with what she received at this point in 2008.
Korrianne Bardsley, the Marlborough election’s clerk, said she’s received more than 900 absentee ballots so far.
Although Wednesday is the last day to register to vote, registered voters have until noon on Nov. 5, the day before Election Day, to request an absentee ballot.
The number of people voting early, including through absentee ballot, is rising cross the country. Reports by the New York Times and NBC have found that the use of voting by mail has more than tripled since 1980 and an estimated 30 percent of Americans voted early in 2008, up from just over 20 percent in 2004.
Massachusetts is just one of 15 states that does not allow in-person early voting and requires an excuse for absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In order to qualify for an absentee ballot, Massachusetts voters must be absent from their city or town on election day, have a physical disability that prevents them from voting at the polling place or have a religious belief that prohibits them from voting at the poll.
By comparison, 32 states and the District of Columbia no excuse is needed for early voting in person or by absentee ballot.
An attempt to change absentee voting laws was stopped this summer when the state Senate decided not to hold a debate on the Election Reform Bill.
Avi Green, co-director of MassVOTES, a nonprofit organization dedicated to non-partisan voter mobilization efforts, says Massachusetts lags behind much of the country in making voting easy for people though absentee ballots.
“You see a lot less people voting absentee in Massachusetts than other states,” Green said. “Most other states you don’t have to have any reason – you work 9-5, you have childcare, etc. You don’t have to provide a specific reason.”
Packer, the town clerk of Natick thinks the national attention on early voting may be influencing the high number of absentee ballot requests she’s received.
“There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about early voting and I suspect that’s a part of it,” she said.
Much of the national attention has focused on how well the Obama and Romney campaigns are doing at getting early voters out. The New York Times also drew national attention to the higher chance of voter fraud through absentee ballots in a front page article last week.
In Massachusetts, the deadlocked Senate race is likely drawing more voters.
“Our initial research indicates that 2012 turnout is likely to be record breaking and beat all other presidential turnout in Massachusetts,” said Green. “In absolute numbers it will beat it and be the highest percentage voting since JFK.”
“The organizations run by (Elizabeth) Warren and (Scott) Brown are going to bring an extraordinary number of people to the polls,” he said.
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