By Marjorie Nesin
---- — It’s more than three weeks to Election Day, but Gloucester’s City Hall has absentee ballots available to voters planning to travel outside of Gloucester or who are physically unable to visit a polling station that day.
That means voters meeting those conditions can already cast a ballot with choices for mayor, City Council and School Committee, along with a chance to vote on a nonbinding referendum regarding the future use of the Fuller School site.
The absentee forms — which City Clerk Linda Lowe organizes into the respective wards, then distributes to the ward voting places for processing during Election Day voting — are due back to the clerk’s office in City Hall by Election Day.
“While people are coming in person to vote,” Lowe said, “(poll workers are) entering those votes into the electronic system, and they’re counted just like anybody else.”
The absentee ballot deadline of Election Day falls after another date voters should mark on their calendar. The last day to register for voting — absentee or in person — is Oct. 16, which falls next Wednesday.
Only residents who have changed their home location since last voting or are voting for the first time need to register. The city clerk’s office will accept registrations and extend their hours on Oct. 16 to 8 p.m. to accept last minute registration forms.
Lowe emphasized that absentee voting is not meant to function as early voting, an option not available to Massachusetts voters.
“We’re still required to say to people politely, “And it’s true that you can’t get to the polls, right?’” Lowe said.
The city clerk’s office usually begins receiving phone calls from voters inquiring about absentee ballots as early as September, Lowe said. Then, the office sees a pretty steady flow of absentee voters.
“There’s several people every day, and it can, in a busy election, add up to 700,” Lowe continued. “In a less-busy election, it can add up to just a couple hundred.”
Municipal elections typically fall under the “less-busy” category. During the 2012 election year that included state and federal candidates, Gloucester’s turnout skyrocketed to nearly 75 percent. But the prior municipal election saw a turnout closer to 30 percent, according to Lowe.
A state law also requires the city to offer absentee ballots to individuals living in nursing homes, and the city clerk pays a visit to Gloucester’s nursing homes each year to hand out the ballots, then gather them up.
“It is an important opportunity for people who need it,” Lowe said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.