So, you’re a registered Democrat, but when you received the application for a mail ballot to vote in the June 2 preferential presidential primary, you spotted the boxes at the top of the form and thought you’d vote in the Republican primary.
If you did that, or if you’re a registered Republican and decided you wanted to vote in the Democratic primary, you’re not alone. Daily since the Secretary of State sent out ballot applications, the Warwick Board of Canvassers has received “mixed” applications. It’s too late to change party affiliation and Republicans can’t vote in the Democratic primary and visa versa.
But the board doesn’t just cast aside the application. A new application is sent out with an explanation.
It’s one of the twists and turns in what will be the state’s first predominately mail ballot primary, which has the board of canvassers doing summersaults and is giving director Dottie McCarthy headaches. McCarthy has lost 18 pounds fretting over the massive task of ensuring a secure mail ballot primary even though contests for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations have been all but decided. McCarthy has forgotten to eat lunch on more occasions than not, and by the time she gets home she’s lost her appetite. She said the stress has pretty much worn off by Sunday afternoon, but then everything starts all over again on Monday morning.
A visit to the board’s City Hall offices, where the staff is all properly distanced and wearing masks, was stepping into a room where space is at a premium. Piles of ballot applications, more than 11,000 of them, filled tabletops and were lined up on the carpet. Each pile comprised 150 applications. Each application needs to be individually reviewed, weeding out the “mixed” applications and then entered into the system in order for them to receive a mail ballot. A QR code on the application fortunately brings up the voter’s information on the screen, including their signature that is compared to the one on the application. The processing involves entering data into five fields. Donna Collins, voter technician, said she’s able to process three piles, or 450 applications, a day.
The deadline for a mail application was May 19, meaning those who plan to vote in Warwick who haven’t received a mail ballot will have to visit one of two polling locations, either the K of C Hall on Sandy Lane and Warwick Avenue or Cedar Hill Elementary School in Cowesett. Either location is acceptable, McCarthy said, but she foresees lines and long waits given the distancing requirements and the ballots. She thinks wait times of an hour or longer are possible.
Voters are required to wear masks and to have their identification. And while there’s no contest for party nominations, both the Republican and Democratic ballots contain a long list of delegates.
“I don’t know any of these names,” said McCarthy holding up a sample ballot. “People aren’t going to know these names,” she said, speculating voters are going to be befuddled.
In addition to the processing of applications, the board is also faced with piles of undeliverable applications. Once the primary is over, the board will be going through those to clean up the rolls of registered voters. As of May 14, Warwick had a total of 65,133 active, pre-registered (young people under the age of 18) and inactive voters.
McCarthy said ballots should be in the mail this week. Envelopes will contain the ballot, an oath envelope that needs to be signed by the voter (normally the signature needs to be verified by two witnesses or a notary, but that is being waived under these circumstances) and a return envelope. Oath envelope signatures can be checked against the signatures on file by the State Board of Elections.
The work going into a primarily mail ballot primary, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has assured will pay off with an election where every voter’s vote is accurately counted. It is also being considered as a warm-up to November, which depending on the course of the pandemic could also end up being a largely a mail ballot general election.
McCarthy doesn’t want to think that far ahead. The June 2 primary is in her sights and it has her stressed.
“If the virus doesn’t kill me, the election [primary] will,” she said.