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Clerk candidates tell how each sees town election

YourArlington asked the following questions to the three candidates for town clerk.

Arlington vote logoThey could respond to them at any length and in any way. Responses are published in full:

Given the Covid-19 crisis, what are your recommendations for how the June 6 election should take place, assuming it does on that date?

Should all precincts by used?

To what extent should there be mail-in, absentee or early balloting? Explain your responses.

Janice Weber, clerk candidate, 2020Janice Weber

assistant town clerk

The town is going to send out a mass mailing for voters to sign and send back to the clerk's office for a request for an absentee ballot for the June 6, annual town election.

The decision to have only one location to cast a vote in person was discussed; however, because of social distancing, it has been decided not to have that option.

There will be a drop box, location to be decided, into which voters may place their ballots if they decide not to mail them to us.

Feb. 2, 2020: Weber offers direct experience, endorsements, modernizing aims among clerk hopes

Juliana H. Brazile, clerk candidate, 2020

Juli Brazile 

Planning for our town election -- currently scheduled for Saturday, June 6 -- must prioritize the health and safety of all involved, within the limits of the law. Within that framework, planning should pursue two very different tracks: In-person voting on June 6, and vote by mail options that offer residents the choice to avoid polling places entirely.

A “perfect-world” scenario would be to mail all registered voters a ballot with a postage-paid envelope to return the ballot, but Massachusetts doesn’t allow that under current law. However, the state Legislature has expanded options to allow registered voters to apply for an early voting ballot to be mailed to their homes.

I support this plan since it has the greatest chance of being publicized, explained and executed given our resources. My first preference is for the town to mail all registered voters directly and provide an application to get a ballot by mail and to include a stamped return envelope. If the majority of people can vote by mail, we reduce the risk to the election workers and make it more possible to establish procedures at polling places that allow for safe spacing for those who vote in person.

It’s important to note that even mailing the application for a ballot and a return envelope to every registered voter still means residents have several steps to complete, and it will be an unfamiliar process for many. Further, If the town is not able to mail the application for a ballot, then many residents without computers and printers in their homes will find the process doubly confusing. So we will need aggressive outreach to educate voters about vote by mail or their option to vote in person on Election Day. Collaborating with such groups as the League of Women Voters or Envision Arlington may improve outreach or provide extra hands on Election Day for sanitizing equipment.

In an unprecedented and confusing situation such as we face today, successful outreach will require multiple, overlapping approaches and the engagement of all resources who can help. These might include:

                1. Election information should be made available on fliers that can be distributed widely in grocery stores or restaurant windows;
                2. Groups that provide critical services and continue to interact with residents, such as Food Link, Arlington EATS or the Council on Aging, may be able to help us share information more widely;
                3. Communication should provide directions for finding more information or asking questions by phone or email; and
                4. Explore how new networks like Mutual Aid Arlington and Arlington Helps can distribute information or provide assistance to those who face barriers to vote by mail.

We should take advantage of existing “social networks” to ensure that information about the election is distributed as widely and efficiently as possible so as to reach every eligible voter without imposing too great a cost on the town. The more people we reach, the more people they reach, the more the election information is disseminated throughout the town.

The challenge of holding in-person Election Day polling is real. It clearly puts voters and election workers at greater risk. But not doing so, or doing so in a radically different way than we normally do, risks confusing voters and creating barriers for those who can’t travel easily to a new location, or for whom work hours are still an issue.

In balancing these risks, I believe that elections are important enough to our civic life, that we must find a way to hold them in a way that ensures all eligible voters can vote, while doing everything we can to reduce the risk of exposure to voters and workers alike. That’s why I endorse the idea of enabling as many voters as we can to vote by mail: This reduces the number of people who need to vote in person, making it much easier to manage the in-person voting process in a way that is safer.

Election Day voting in polling places 
                1. If possible, all polling locations should be open the usual hours;
                2. Procedures need to be created for sanitizing pens and voting tables and providing protective gear for workers;
                3. Voters should be encouraged to wear their own masks; and
                4. Polling places must be arranged so that election workers can do their jobs at a proper distance from each other, and from the voters.

Outreach to voters about Election Day through a mailing, on fliers and in local media, including the Advocate and YourArlington, should have reminders about masks and assurances about the cleaning procedures as well as links to information about the candidates. Find them on ACMi’s and the League of Women Voters' websites as well as YourArlington.

In this unprecedented situation, I am encouraged by how staff, volunteers and others are coming together to find solutions -- it is the Arlington way. I will continue to focus on reducing barriers and developing communication strategies in partnership with town leaders. We want every voter in Arlington to have the opportunity to vote safely.

Jan. 19, 2020: Brazile: Clerk hopeful eyes improving customer service via digital means

Patti Brennan Sawtelle, clerk candidate, 2020

Patti Brennan Sawtelle

Covid-19 has affected every facet of our everyday lives. The town election on Saturday, June 6, is no exception. It is critical the town provide voters with a clear plan for the June 6 election that balances the safety of residents and election workers and complies with election laws. As described in my plan below, the June 6 election must use early voting by mail as the primary voting mechanism, while offering modified day-of, in-person voting. The key to success for the election, however, remains communication of the election plan with voters. 

Early voting by mail

The town should strongly encourage all registered voters to vote via mail-in ballot, particularly seniors and other at-risk populations most vulnerable to Covid-19. By law, voters are required to complete and submit an absentee ballot application form to the clerk’s office before the town can mail a ballot. For the June election, there is also an early voting ballot application form, which you may read here >>  

Early/absentee ballot application forms can be returned to the town clerk’s office via mail, fax or email. I would suggest the town make ballot-application forms available at essential retail establishments, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, and allow residents to return their ballot application forms via a secure drop box at locations, such as the police station or the front of Town Hall. This will ensure that all voters have a mechanism to receive and return their early/absentee ballot-application forms.

Given the expected volume of mail-in ballots and the staffing required to process them, I would suggest the town mail ballots on May 1 instead of the May 15 scheduled date. The drop boxes, referenced above, could also be used to return completed ballots.

As the next town clerk, I would work with legislators and the secretary of state to allow voters in future elections to submit the absentee ballot application online, a more efficient alternative to the current process. This is an example where Arlington’s next town clerk must have technology skills.

In-person voting

This plan is based on the assumption that in-person voting is deemed safe on June 6. I would seek the advice of the secretary of state, the Board of Health and the Select Board to ensure that my plan is achievable, but it is my thought that the town consolidates polling locations into one central location, either Arlington High School as the optimum location or alternatively, Town Hall. A single location minimizes election staff required to manage the election and allows for greater control over health and safety measures. While some may have concerns with the consolidation, the historically low turnout for local elections (approximately 17 percent for the 2018 and 2019 local elections), combined with the strongly encouraged mail-in voting, should result in a dramatic reduction of in-person voters.

As a former project manager in Health and Human Services, I successfully organized large-scale flu clinics, which are nearly identical events to voting in Covid-19 conditions. I understand the importance of a carefully choreographed operation, including floor plans identifying election entrances/exits, the flow of people through the clinic from check-in, voting, and check-out, placement of election workers and police details, placement of signage, etc. It would be important that the town set up the election site in advance to conduct a walk-through to test the efficiency and safety of the site and to provide training for election workers (even if the training is held virtually).

Arlington High School, the site of the largest single-day clinic during the H1N1 flu pandemic, would be the preferred site as it offers the largest space, accessibility, and ample parking. Alternatively, Town Hall has been used in the past for consolidated early voting for all precincts. Using either location, the 21 precincts should be divided into voting groups within the building to maintain proper social distancing.

I would ensure that the Board of Health is included in the process to ensure all necessary safeguards related to reducing the spread of Covid-19 be in place, such as adhering to social-distancing requirements, taking of temperatures of voters prior to entrance in the building, sanitizing voting stations after each use and providing election workers all necessary safeguards, such as masks, gloves, and Plexiglas barriers.

Voting hours should be curtailed to minimize election worker exposure to the public and allow election workers additional time to process mail-in ballots. I would recommend voting hours be from 9 a.m. To 5 p.m.

Finally, another option to consider would be drive-through voting where voters remain in their vehicles. With the volume of in-person voters expected to be low, this would be an exceptional opportunity to test drive-through voting for future elections. At this point, we do not know what restrictions might be in place this fall for the presidential election. Offering drive-through voting for a limited number of hours would provide a great opportunity to test drive-through for future voting options.

Communication plan

The communication plan should use a multi-platform approach to communicate voting information to voters. Electronic messaging should include the town website, town notices, town Facebook pages and other social-media groups. Options include YourArlington, Arlington Email List, Patch, WickedLocal, etc. Voting information should be included in all local newspapers.

Additionally, the town should display voting information at all essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as all 21-precinct locations. Voting information should be displayed on the sandwich board in front of Town Hall as well as the portable, electronic message board. The plan should include collaboration with important resident groups, such as the Council on Aging, Arlington EATS and the Arlington Housing Authority. The voting communication plan should include a message via the Reverse 911 telephone system.

Finally, a postcard should be mailed to all registered voters with the new election date, voting options and consolidated voting location.

It is important to note that residents, who have not already registered to vote, now have the ability to register on or before May 27. To register to vote or to check your voter registration status, click here >> This is a particularly important step for residents who recently moved to Arlington.

In closing, we are in unprecedented times that require experienced municipal leadership to manage not only the June 6 election, but all future elections to maximize voter turnout in a safe and efficient manner. While on a basic level, my opponents’ plans may be similar, I am the only candidate who has successfully executed a large-scale event where resident health and safety was paramount. I am the only candidate who has the technology, municipal, operations and finance experience to lead the town clerk’s office. For more information, please visit my website at

Jan. 3, 2020: Sawtelle: Clerk hopeful cites tech background, need for upgrade

These statements were published Thursday, April 23.

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