By Shawn Regan firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — Intense voter interest might not be the only factor in long lines at the polls tomorrow.
More than 32,000 registered voters in Haverhill and Lawrence face the prospect of having to show picture identification and sign an affidavit listing their address before they will be allowed to vote in tomorrow’s presidential election — a time-consuming and potentially troublesome process when combined with expected high turnouts, local officials said.
The voters in question have been placed on the inactive voter list for failing to return local census information mailed by cities and towns in January or February. Voters on the inactive list can still vote, but they must first show ID and fill out a form listing their address. Those without ID are given provisional ballots that may be counted later, especially in close races.
In Haverhill, there were 15,461 inactive voters as of Oct. 17 — the last day to register to vote and get back on the active list — down from around 18,000 three weeks ago when city officials began a publicity effort to get voters back on the active list before Election Day.
“Hundreds of people have called, come to the office and sent in the forms to get back on the active list,” Haverhill City Clerk Margaret Toomey said Friday.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said the backlog of inactive voters could still pose problems.
“I’m going to try to put extra people on Election Day,” Fiorentini said. “We’re going to try to accommodate them. But we see this as a major problem coming up.”
Local and state officials are predicting high voter turnout across the state for the presidential election, which features not only the critical Obama-Romney contest and several key local and congressional races, but also several lengthy ballot questions.
To try to speed the voting proces, Toomey said Haverhill will set up special “Inactive Voter Check-In” tables at every poll with the name of every voter on the inactive list in that precinct.
“We’re asking anyone who hasn’t voted a long time or recently moved within the city or who didn’t return the census to check the inactive list first,” she said. “The process is they show us ID, sign a form and give their address. Then we put them back on the active list and they go vote.”
There are even more voters on the inactive list in Lawrence — 17,720, according election coordinator Rafeal Tejada. Of those, Tejada said he expects around 6,000 will show up to vote.
“We will have a separate table for them, but there’s no doubt it’s going slow things down,” Tejada said of inactive voters. “But there’s not much that can be done about it. We have a lot of people who only vote in the presidential election every four years, and all those people, if they didn’t return the census, are going to be on the inactive list.”
Clerks in Methuen, Andover and North Andover are less concerned about inactive voters slowing things down tomorrow because there are fewer of them in those communities. There are 6,874 inactive voters in Methuen, 2,383 in Andover and 2,187 in North Andover, the clerks said.
“It’s going to be crowded at the polls anyway and people are going to have to wait, but I don’t think our inactive voters are going to cause that much of a problem because there aren’t that many here,” Methuen Clerk Christine Touma-Conway said.
Andover Town Clerk Lawrence Murphy said historically about 10 percent of the town’s registered voters are on the inactive list. There were 23,494 total registered voters on the last day to register, so that percentage is almost right on for this election, he said.
“Everybody seems to use a different process for dealing with inactive voters,” Murphy said. “We tell ours see the (precinct) warden, then they show ID and sign an affidavit.”
State law requires that cities and towns determine the active voter list annually by gathering local census data and street listings. The process involves mailing a survey to residents at the beginning of the year. Voters who do not return the census are sent a reminder notice. Those who fail to respond to that second request are moved onto the inactive list.
Critics of the Massachusetts law for maintaining voter lists argue that requiring inactive voters to show ID violates the rights of voters because it subjects them to a separate and longer process that can discourage some from voting.
Toomey, the Haverhill clerk, said there are many ways to get back on the active list. Anyone who votes in any election, signs any nomination papers or petitions or changes their address or political party affiliation automatically has their voting status restored, she said.
North Andover: 2,187