Newton City Council unanimously approved early voting hours for the city’s March 14 special election at a meeting on Monday night. Three override items, including a proposed $15 million tax increase, will appear on the ballot.
Newton residents will be able to vote early at City Hall for five days leading up to the election: Friday, March 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, March 4 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, March 5 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, March 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Tuesday, March 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; according to a report from Monday’s city council meeting.
The Election Commission, which recommended the chosen early voting hours, takes both state guidelines, local trends, and accessibility into consideration when formulating the early voting schedule, according to Newton City Clerk Carol Moore.
“During state and federal elections we have to have City Hall as a space for early voting,” Moore said. “But I know the election commissioners, like, they wanted to make sure we had a weekend—a Saturday and Sunday—because you have to include days that aren’t typical work days.”
Moore said the proposed $15 million tax override on the ballot should ensure a higher turnout than typical special elections, which necessitates several days of early voting.
“We’re projecting that we’ll have a healthy turnout because it does involve the budget,” she said. “We did want to do at least five days.”
David Hopkins, a professor in the department of political science at Boston College, said he expects early voting to remain a common practice in coming years, following pandemic-era trends of an increased reliance on early and mail-in voting.
“We can probably expect that some of the people who started voting early because of the pandemic will just continue to do so indefinitely,” Hopkins said.
Since the 2016 general election, voters in Massachusetts have been able to vote prior to election day without an excuse, according to the commonwealth’s website.
In the 2020 general election, 9,954 Newton voters opted to vote early during the designated two-week period.
Moore said the early voting process as a whole has taken on an entirely different purpose since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The response to early voting is to provide other ways and opportunities for people to participate in the voting process,” she said.
Hopkins said despite its rise in popularity, early voting doesn’t have a major impact on turnout in most elections.
“Debates over early voting end up being partisan,” he said. “But the evidence we have from political science research suggests that early voting does not have a significant effect on turnout, that the people who vote early would have voted anyway, by and large, had they not had the opportunity to vote early.”
Moore said she intends to monitor early voting trends across future elections, particularly with the increased number of Newton residents voting by mail.
“Now that we have mail-in voting, we need to see if those numbers are going to change because those in-person voting now may be utilizing mailing in,” she said.
Hopkins said individuals find mail-in and early voting more convenient than voting on election day, and that has contributed to their respective rises in popularity.
“They just enjoy the convenience of getting it done before Election Day,” he said. “If they didn’t have that opportunity, they would stand in line on Election Day with everybody else.”
Moore said she hopes early voting can play a part in expanding Newton’s voter turnout.
“I think any chance that I can provide secure ways for people to vote outside of election day, I will gladly work towards that process,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to get more people to participate.”