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Officials push for early voting; Long lines on Election Day prompt concern.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - A move is afoot on the City Council to make it easier for residents to vote.

Four city councilors are sponsoring an order for the council meeting tonight asking the city administration to prepare and file home rule legislation that would allow early voting in Worcester.

The four councilors - Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton, District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, Councilor-at-Large Gary Rosen and District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy - are also asking for a home rule bill that would allow Election Day voter registration in the city.

Special legislation is needed for both measures because they currently are not allowed under state law.

Early voting allows voters to cast ballots before Election Day. In some states, early voting takes place on a single day, while in others it takes place during several days. Early voting can take place by mail or at designated polling locations.

Massachusetts is one of 16 states in the country that does not allow any form of early voting, though residents are allowed to cast absentee ballots if they are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day. But to be able to vote absentee, people must file an application with the Election Commission.

The intent behind early voting is to increase voter participation and relieve congestion at the polls on Election Day.

The four councilors are acting after some voters complained about long lines at the polls Tuesday. Some

said they had to wait as much as an hour.

City Clerk David J. Rushford acknowledged there were long lines, but he said people by and large were patient and the overall election process went well in Worcester.

"Even though long lines existed at some polls, voters were handled efficiently and thoroughly by our poll workers and police officers," Mr. Rushford said. "Some voters considered waiting in line to be a positive collective experience, while others complained to workers, police and to me, saying they had a terrible experience. Some even screamed to me, saying that they would never vote again.

"But waiting in line for 40 minutes should not be considered a systemic failure. Rather, long voting lines here and across the nation confirm that our democracy is alive and has a bright future. With the input we received from many residents who greeted us during Election Day at the polls, I can state without hesitation that ours is a well-functioning operation."

Mr. Rushford said he also accepts criticisms concerning the 23 new polling locations this year.

He said elections officials will strive to perfect those locations and also seek solutions to what the city can do better to make it easier to vote, including considering councilors' suggestions.

While only 12,054 people voted in the September primary, Mr. Rushford said, five times more people (61,216) voted Tuesday. He said the turnout ranged from a low of 505 voters at a precinct in the College Hill/Quinsigamond Village area, to a high of 2,083 voters at a West Side precinct.

"We had 49,162 more people vote in the 2008 presidential election than in the 2008 state primary, and 4,265 more people voted in Worcester in this election than in the 2004 presidential election," Mr. Rushford said.

Since the February presidential primary, he added, the city's number of registered voters

increased by 5,020, to 103,111.

Leading up to the election last week, 4,215 voters requested to vote absentee, a 25 percent increase over the 2004 election.

In addition to early voting, some councilors - Mr. Rushton, Mr. Palmieri, Mr. Rosen and District 1 Councilor Joffrey A. Smith - would like elections officials to consider absentee voting at places other than at City Hall.

Increasing the number of available locations for absentee voting, they believe, it could further boost voter participation.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 10, 2008
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