By Bill Kirk
Dozens of unregistered voters have been trying to cast ballots in today's election for U.S. Senator between Democratic Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican State Sen. Scott Brown.
In the Merrimack Valley, city and town clerks are reporting a higher than normal number of inquiries from people who think they are registered to vote but who aren't turning up on the city's official voting lists.
Those people are being given provisional ballots, which are set aside and will be counted tomorrow. City and town clerks are required by law to count provisional ballots by Jan. 31.
If the election is close, as many people expect, the provisional ballots could be a key to victory. Meanwhile, overseas ballots may be counted up to 10 days after the election is held, meaning they could also be key to Brown's or Coakley's victory.
Voters and pollworkers have been calling their city and town clerks all day long to see if they are registered to vote or not.
"We have had a number of inquiries from people about whether they are on the voter list," said Andover Assistant Town Clerk Janet Eaton. "We've been getting inundated with calls from people to see if they are registered."
She and other clerks say that many people mistakenly believe they registered when they got their drivers' licenses at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, only to find out that they checked the 'no' box instead of the 'yes' box, meaning they are not registered to vote.
While Haverhill was swamped with absentee ballots last week, the city has received a number of phone calls today from people who think they are registered.
"We've gotten three or four per precinct," said Rick Barber of the Haverhill clerk's office. "That's not normal for this kind of election. For a presidential election we'd get this, but not for something like this."
Cities and towns have 10 days to research whether the provisional ballots are legitimate and should be counted as votes.
Methuen City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway said most of the provisional ballots "do not end up getting counted" as votes because people made a mistake on the motor-voter registration form at the RMV.
Richard Reyes, the senior accounting clerk in the Lawrence Election Division, said that many people are registered to vote in their old hometown, but forgot to re-register after they moved to Lawrence.
Those voters are told to either return to the town where they are registered to vote, or vote on a provisional ballot. However, he said, if they cast a provisional ballot here, their vote probably won't count.
"The Board of Registrars meets tomorrow to review the provisional ballots," Reyes said. "Some provisionals will count, but not all of them. And we've gotten quite a few of them."
While cities and towns have until Jan. 31 to confirm and count provisional ballots, they also have another 10 days to count overseas ballots.
The North Reading clerk's office was getting bombarded with calls from voters and pollworkers about whether or not people were properly registered.
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