Although Election Day was almost three weeks ago, the balloting season isn’t over until the Governor’s Council certifies 2022 results likely this Wednesday.
Haverhill City Clerk Linda L. Koutoulas and her office were still working up until last week on post-processing ballots that arrived over the weekend and the Monday before Election Day. She explains, by state law, these votes are not counted until after the election and are handled in a public session advertised in advance.
“It’s just a very long process. You take the ballot. You look through the voter list. You take the ballot from the envelope. You read off the voter’s name on the envelope. You check it off the voter list and the next person scans in that ballot. Then it goes down to someone else to open up and remove the ballot. When they do that, they don’t look at the ballot—they’re doing several ballots and taking them out at the same time,” she says.
Koutoulas tells WHAV updates to state law gave voters more options to cast ballots, such as early voting—which took place over two weeks this year—and mail-in voting. She said more people are choosing convenience.
“When we do vote by mail, the interest has exponentially increased—going from a few hundred to almost 10,000—10,000 applications,” Koutoulas says.
The changes also meant more complications for her and other city and town clerks. She says these included the necessity to mail many more ballots to those who requested them, but paper shortages and supply chain issues resulted in communities receiving the ballots “late in the game.” There are also frequent checking of the ballot box outside City Hall and sending “hundreds and hundreds of letters every week.as a result of voter registration online and through the Registry of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies.
“Early ballots are basically the same as absentee ballots, except you don’t need an excuse to request one,” she adds, noting there is greater transparency and confidence in the system. This is because residents are able to check online to find out when clerks receive their applications, when ballots are mailed and so on.
Koutoulas says the new methods, popularized by restrictions during the pandemic, imposed added costs too. Among them, postage—sending ballots cost 81 cents each, payroll, supplies and other expenses borne by communities.
Most years, the outcomes don’t change between unofficial results, typically released election night, and final counts which include absentee and mail-in ballots. This year, however, saw Rep. Lenny Mirra up 84 votes election ight, but now up only 10. A recount is planned (See separate story). The district will no longer include such communities as Haverhill, Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury.