Plymouth Town Clerk Sounds Alarm On Coronavirus Election Processs

PLYMOUTH, MA – Larry Pizer estimates he oversaw 73 Plymouth elections in his 28 years as town clerk.

He said the anguish of this week’s special state senate election amid the coronavirus health emergency has made him determine that one will be his last.

The 74-year-old Pizer told Patch that executing what he called the “extremely dangerous decision” to hold the election on Tuesday caused him to submit his letter of resignation the next day.

“I found this election was such a bad experience,” Pizer told Patch. “It was awful. Let’s talk turkey. Not to diminish democracy, and the importance of any single election, but these are decisions that could affect whether people live or die. This is something incredibly serious.”

Pizer shared some stark warnings to fellow town clerks across the state as they prepare for town elections, the state primary on Sept. 1 and the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“I expect it to be very tough to hold a town election in less than a month,” Pizer said. “Who knows what the distant future will bring in September. What kind of a world do we live in now when we talk about September as the distance future? Never mind what will happen in November. It could be a monstrosity.”

He said it was “just plain wrong” to hold the special election on Tuesday when Democrat Susan Moran edged Republican James McMahon. In Plymouth, Moran received 2,945 votes (52.6 percent) to McMahon’s 2,644 (47.4 percent). Moran won 55 percent to 45 percent district-wide.

Pizer said complications included the volume of mail-in ballots requested, ballots that were returned late, limited staff at a town hall closed to the public due to the town’s state of emergency and having enough poll workers in place for the town’s 15 precincts.

“Less than 40 percent of the regular poll workers were willing to work that day,” Pizer said. “I supported that viewpoint. Many of these people are my friends and I was not willing to cajole them into putting themselves in mortal danger.”

Pizer said that the town decided to keep all 15 precincts open to limit the congestion at any one polling location. He said six people were assigned to each polling location and the town was able to cover the precincts adequately using reserve poll workers who volunteered.

He said about 60 percent of those who voted in the election voted in person — down from about 90 percent in previous elections. He said the turnout of 12 percent for the election was low, but relatively in line with other elections that do not involve a statewide office or presidential election.

“We were not encouraging people to go to the polls,” he said. “How to run an election, and keep people from being dead, is not really a fun thing to put on a town clerk.”

Pizer said there were about 3,200 requests for mail-in ballots — up from 1,700 for the 2016 presidential election where the overall turnout among the town’s 45,026 registered voters was 81 percent.

“I cannot fathom how it will be in November assuming that the COVID-19 crisis is not behind us,” he said. “We could see 20,000 mail-in ballots. How that will happen completely escapes me. If there is going to be changes for the September and November elections then those have to happen very, very quickly.”

One major issue for the state is its lack of mail-in voting infrastructure. While some states have been fine-tuning their mail-in procedures for decades, Massachusetts has previously allowed mail-in voting by absentee only — not simply by preference — meaning that voters had to attest that they either could not be in their town of residence to vote on election day or had a health reason for not being able to vote in person.

While some states automatically mail out ballots to all registered voters, in Massachusetts voters must request a mail-in ballot with a signature, receive the ballot and then return it by 8 p.m. on the night of the election.

Pizer said the influx of ballots on election day in Plymouth took an extra day to count, and actually swung the Plymouth vote in Moran’s favor. But he added there were “trays of ballots” that were never counted because they did not arrive at town hall by the election night deadline.

“I have spent 28 years telling people to vote, and how important voting is, and that every vote counts,” Pizer said. “Then on Wednesday and Thursday we had trays of these ballots coming into the office. That none of these votes counted is tragic.

“If you put a ballot in the mail on a Friday the guarantee that it will get there by Tuesday doesn’t exist. It might or it might not,” he added. “The Post Office will do its best. But it could get lost. It could be delayed. Anything could happen.”

Pizer’s final day as town clerk is scheduled for June 19.

“I’ve loved this job for 28 years,” he said. “It’s sad.”

More Coronavirus Coverage On Massachusetts Patch:

Plymouth Superintendent of Schools Outlines ‘Drive-Up’ Graduation

Plymouth County Jail Population Down 20 Percent Since Court Order

What Return To Work Will Look Like For Office Workers

Coronavirus Case Counts For Every Massachusetts Town (Updated May 20)

This article originally appeared on the Plymouth Patch