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Pittsfield Clerk Conducts Ballot Tests in Preparation for Election
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:05AM / Friday, October 23, 2020
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Pittsfield City Clerk Michele Benjamin runs test ballots through a voting machine to make sure its reading correctly.


Early voting is taking place in City Council Chambers in City Hall. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Ballot machines are being tested at City Hall in preparation of the upcoming election. 
 
City Clerk Michele Benjamin said the testing is to make sure that all ballots are read with 100 percent accuracy.
 
This process takes about three days and involves running 2,800 test ballots through the machines to ensure that every position on the ballot is read, the proper precinct is being read, and to make sure the memory cards are working correctly.  
 
Every ballot machine that is used at a voting station is tested, and there are 14 for each precinct and then another 14 for the additional early voting memory cards.  
 
Benjamin explained that a test deck is used to make sure that each position on the ballots is being read by the machine. Each test runs 100 test ballots through and produces a receipt with all of the totals; the totals are then compared to a chart with all of the test ballots' results to make sure the machine's totals are correct.
 
"Basically it's like a test election," she said.
 
Because 28 machines need to have 100 ballots run through them, this process takes a long time. For this year, Benjamin estimated that it would take Monday to Thursday to complete with added interruptions.
 
Normally the assistant clerk of elections assists in this process but because of the volume of absentee ballots the city is receiving, it's not possible this year.
 
Currently the city's vault is housing several thousand absentee ballots. In normal years, the office receives a dramatically lower number of absentee ballots. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, voters are opting to mail in ballots and avoid the polls in greater numbers.
 
On top of the several thousand absentee ballots already submitted, if the city receives all of the ballots that were sent out, it will have about 7,000 more absentee ballots.
 
To accommodate the increased volume of absentee ballots, the city purchased a new larger dropbox because the previous one was too small for quantity of ballots it is receiving now.
 
About three assistants are needed in the city clerk's office just to open and process these ballots. They come in the mail, everything is opened and input into the system with barcodes, and then the ballots are put on a memory card.
 
"Even though they are in the system," Benjamin said. "Everything is stored on a memory card."
 
After Oct. 25, they can start preprocessing the ballots. This involves opening them, separating them, and checking them into voter books so voters who submitted absentee ballots can't vote at the polls.
 
On Wednesday, they had about 60 requested absentee ballots being mailed out. Benjamin said that has been the average of daily requested absentee ballots. On Tuesday, there were more than 90.
 
The ballots are then stored in clear transfer cases and sealed. At 8 p.m. when the polls close on election night, they can run the tapes and tally the unofficial results. The city clerk's office does not know how many votes each candidate has until this time on election night.  
 
Benjamin is the only person accessing the dropbox that contains absentee ballots. The ballots are locked and secured into the vault every night to ensure their safety.
 
Early in-person voting in Massachusetts started on Saturday, Oct. 17, and is running through Thursday, Oct. 29. Any Pittsfield resident who is registered to vote can submit an early ballot.
 
Early voting used to be held in the city clerk's office, but was moved to a larger space upstairs in City Hall for social distancing. The polls are set up to be a one-way walk through, entering and exiting through different doors to avoid congestion.
 
Benjamin said early voting has gone smoothly so far. For precautionary measures, police have been present by walking through the polls a few times a day.
 
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been added security to early in-person voting in the form of personal protective equipment, sanitizing materials, and increased sanitation.
 
The presidential election in 2016 had a 71 percent turnout while only 33 percent voted in the September primary.
 
The last day to request an early voting ballot by mail is Wednesday Oct. 28, and the last date and time to register to vote in person is Saturday, Oct. 24, by 8 p.m.
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