During the two week period of early in-person voting 9,954 Newton residents cast their ballots. Voting was held from Oct. 17 through Oct. 30 at the Newton Free Library in Drunker Auditorium, which was a change from the traditional location of Newton City Hall.
Newton’s City Clerk David Olson explained that the city moved voting to the library due to public health concerns regarding COVID-19.
“Although City Hall worked for early voting in past years, trying to do social distancing in the space was just not going to work,” Olson said. “We were pretty tightly packed in here in City Hall when we were doing early voting prior to the pandemic, and so being able to move it across the street to the library, to their auditorium, really has allowed us to make sure that we are keeping social distancing in place.”
Signs reminded voters to maintain a distance of six feet and to wear face masks. Poll workers also instructed voters on when to enter the auditorium in order to limit the number of people in the auditorium.
The public library was able to accommodate voters because activities and services at the library are currently limited. Patrons are able to browse and borrow books, as well as schedule appointments to use the computers. The library does not allow studying, reading, and socializing at the library at this time.
“They are not seeing the numbers of people at the library that they typically would see,” Olson said. “They are not being overwhelmed at the library at this point.”
Olson said that many residents have called the clerk’s office asking questions about the voting process. He said that the pandemic caused many residents to feel unsure about voting procedures.
“We have had to do a lot of information dissemination,” Olson said. “On a daily basis, it’s nonstop. People are calling with basic questions.”
Olson said that the clerk’s office has worked hard to keep people informed about early in-person voting and mail-in voting. The clerk’s office has also increased staffing and hours in response to an increase in requests for mail-in ballots this year.
“We really have become a mailing house here in the City Clerk’s office, trying to get many ballots mailed out, and then get them back,” Olson said. “We have had to shift our focus.”
Newton resident Barbara Athy voted early and in person. At 82 years old, she said that her age and the convenience of the process were the reasons that she decided to vote early.
“I wasn’t sure what November 3rd would bring, so I voted early to not have to wait to the very last minute in case something came up,” Athy said. “Either I got sick or whatever, it was important for me to bolt in today, what seemed to be a good day for it. And I appreciate the city making arrangements. It’s very helpful for seniors.”
Athy said that she enjoyed her voting experience, and she welcomed the location change. She said that City Hall is a limited space, and voting at the library was an easier process.
“It was perfect,” Athy said. “And very clear. The outside gentleman told us where to go when we got inside. There were efficient people to check in with, it went very smooth.”
Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff