Plainville Town Clerk Ellen Robertson said she was up until 1 a.m. Thursday worrying about the coming town election, and not because she is up for re-election.
Instead, Robertson is anxious about the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on the election and whether the town should try to have it postponed.
After all, health officials are telling people to stay home and avoid contact with other people in an attempt to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Bringing hundreds of people to town hall to vote would run counter to that advice.
Robertson also said she doubts she could find 18 people willing to work the polling stations in the middle of the current health crisis.
Some towns that were voting this week, such as Wellesley, got court orders allowing them to postpone.
The Legislature is considering, but has not acted on, proposed bills that would give towns the authority to postpone elections on their own.
Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State William Galvin, said Thursday there is no existing law allowing the secretary or town officials to postpone an election, even in an emergency.
She said Galvin has been proposing legislation since 2012, but the Legislature has never approved it.
Now, she said, Beacon Hill is considering two ideas for giving municipal officials, such as selectmen, the power to postpone. One idea is to make the change permanent. The other would only apply to this year.
State Reps. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, and Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said making the change is a priority for them and other lawmakers, but they do not know when or if the speaker will call for a vote.
“Do we encourage people to come out to vote after telling them to stay at home? It doesn’t make sense,” Poirier said.
They also said the Legislature is trying to figure out if members can vote remotely so everyone doesn’t have to go to the Statehouse.
Meanwhile, local officials are wondering what to do.
Robertson said she is concerned.
North Attleboro Town Manager Michael Borg said his team is thinking about what it should do next.
Foxboro Town Clerk Bob Cutler said his town is still weighing the matter.
“We are considering all options at this time,” Cutler said. “We have not settled on an option at this time.”
Complicating the problem is courts are closed because of the virus, although judges are available on an emergency basis.
In a special meeting Monday night with the board of health, Norton selectmen voted to postpone the April 4 town election, pending authorization through special legislation, Town Manager Michael Yunits said. No new date has been set.
Local communities also have annual town meetings coming up, but O’Malley said town moderators have the authority to postpone them.
Norton has postponed its town meeting from May 18 to June 8.