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North Adams City Council Endorses Voting by Mail

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday endorsed a resolution supporting bills in the Legislature that seek to expand voting by mail. 
 
The resolution passed 7-2, with Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. and Wayne Wilkinson voting against. 
 
There are a number of bills in the Legislature addressing mail-in voting, a concept being spurred by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the document specifically points to bills HD.5026 and S.2654, which calls for ballots to be directly mailed to registered voters. This is similar to how voting is done in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington State.
 
A third bill referenced, H.4623 and presented by 2nd Berkshire state Rep. Paul Mark, would create "no excuse" absentee voting by application. Massachusetts has limited mail balloting that requires voters to state they are unable physically to get to a polling place when they make out an application for a ballot. 
 
"This is important as someone that has elderly parents, which I'm sure you know a lot of us do, or people that are vulnerable to COVID-19, I think it's important that they don't have to worry about going to the polls," said City Councilor Marie T. Harpin, who brought forward the resolution. "They want to be part of this democracy but they don't want to be afraid to go to the polls. ...
 
"I just think this is really important to share democracy within the city so that everybody gets to vote."
 
Councilor Lisa Blackmer also noted that many election workers, particularly in smaller towns, are older citizens most at risk from COVID-19.
 
Council President Paul Hopkins said he fully supported the resolution, as did Councilor Benjamin Lamb, who applauded the effort to put pressure on lawmakers to make it easier and safer in these extenuating circumstances for voters to participate in elections "which is their their right and duty."
 
"We can file our taxes, we can do absentee ballots, we're already doing those things through the mail," Lamb said. "And I would dare say that taxes have a lot more critical information involved in them, and we've been able to do that for a very long time. So I think there's got to be ways for these systems to function in a way that is secure and legitimate and allows for more people to engage in democracy."
 
Moulton and Wilkinson were more concerned with the potential for fraud although they both said they supported the current system of absentee voting by mail.
 
"I'm all in favor of being able to get absentee ballot but there's just too many cases that are easy to have fraud done by general mail," Wilkinson said. "You're going to send out a ballot out in the void, it can be stolen can be taken out of your mailbox. It can be counterfeited quite easy. And I think it jeopardizes the whole voting situation."
 
Moulton compared the current moves to the push for the Patriot Act after the terror attacks in 2001 that in ways infringed on constituational rights. Only five states have all-mail voting, he said. 
 
"I wouldn't say that'll never happen ... But I think they shouldn't be rushed and it should be properly vetted," he said. "So as the paper's presented, I can't support that."
 
Councilor Jason LaForest said didn't have any concerns about fraud or hacking in supporting the resolution.
 
"Secretary [of State Willliam] Galvin, in particular, has a very conservative mindset as to how elections and voting should be handled, primarily because he's extremely concerned about the opportunity for fraud and the opportunity for hacking digital and online voting," LaForest said. "But I think that we do, as a community, as a democratic body need to in its democratic small 'd,' need to encourage our legislators and the Secretary of the Commonwealth to expand voting opportunities."
 
Harpin pointed out that 28 other states already have some form of "no excuse" absentee voting and states like New York and New Hampshire are also looking at expanding mail-in voting, including mailing ballot applications to voters. 
 
There is no indication of widespread voting fraud related to mail-in voting. According to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, more than 57 million citizens voted by mail in 2016, or two out of every five ballots cast. It also found that the vast majority of those mailed a ballot actually returned them in person, rather than mailing them back. 

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North Adams Committee Tweaking Solicitor Ordinance

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee is considering side-stepping a thorny problem about access to the city solicitor by rewriting an ordinance to more clearly spell out lines of communication. 
 
Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer said the wording in the ordinance had raised questions as to whether any single councilor has "unfettered access to the city solicitor." 
 
"I think, we thought that was not particularly good," she said. "So I'd like to take a shot at rewriting that ordinance."
 
The council had objected back in 2018 when the city switched over to KP Law as city solicitor, limiting council members' access to the Boston law firm. The council members had been used to contacting former City Solicitor John B. DeRosa, who'd been kept on retainer for 35 years before stepping down in March 2018.
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