Agreeing with local election officials that some laws which made it easier for voters to cast ballots are redundant, or even unnecessary, selectmen this week agreed to roll back mail-in voting options for the May 1 town elections.
Specifically, board members accepted a recommendation from Town Clerk Robert Cutler to opt out of so-called “no excuse” early mail-in voting for the upcoming town election.
According to Cutler, the opt-out provision had been included in legislation that made early mail-in voting — a no-questions-asked alternative to in-person voting adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic — a permanent feature of the Bay State’s election landscape.
Asking for the board’s blessing on Tuesday night, Cutler told selectmen that mail-in voter initiatives represent a significant undertaking for the town’s small election staff, especially since mail-in ballots have never gained much traction in the town.
“I think basically the voters in Foxboro like to go to the polls,” Cutler said. “We’ve seen that since the pandemic. People still go to the polls.”
Cutler said that most registered voters wishing to vote by mail will be able to request a conventional absentee ballot — an existing mail-in program historically utilized by those unable to vote in person, due either to illness or travel plans.
Even individuals anxious about potential health risks associated with in-person voting would qualify for an absentee ballot, he added.
Responding to a question from Selectwoman Stephanie McGowan, Cutler said the opt-out provision could be reversed in the future if circumstances warranted.
Even so, Chairwoman Leah Gibson suggested the board limit its ruling to the upcoming town election cycle only, saying that selectmen could issue a permanent change if all goes well.
“Obviously voting is really important,” Gibson said. “[But] I would rather take it one election at a time before we go all in.”
In a related matter, selectmen endorsed Cutler’s recommendation to replace aging voting machines with new ballot scanners manufactured by a Omaha, Nebraska-based firm, also in time for the May 1 town elections.
Cutler described the new units manufactured by Election Systems & Software — one of only two vendors approved by the state — as a superior scanner that tabulates ballots faster and more accurately.
With even minor irregularities prompting challenges to election results across the country, Cutler said it is even more important that election results are fast, accurate and verifiable.
“We get questions all the time from voters [about] whether or not that was an accurate machine,” he said. “We need to get past that.”
Town Manager William Keegan already signed a contract with ES&S for new scanning machines, subject to selectmen’s approval, Cutler said.
Gibson pointed out the two election-related discussions were especially timely, since Tuesday was the first day that nomination papers were available for the May 1 town elections.
Nomination papers must be returned to the town clerk’s office with the signatures of at least 50 registered voters by March 13 at 5 p.m. when the ballot will be finalized.
Cutler said there will single seats open on the board of selectmen, town assessors, school committee, board of water and sewer commissioners and board of health; while two seats will be open on both the planning board and Boyden Library board of trustees.
Lastly, a single five-year seat will be opening up on the Foxboro Housing Authority.
Citing her own experiences as a first-time candidate, Gibson suggested hosting an “information night” session for prospective candidates, as well as for key appointed posts in town government.
That session is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at town hall.
“If anyone has questions or is thinking about doing this, please come in if you are interested,” Gibson said.