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Primary push pain for local city clerks

LYNN – City clerks say a plan to have Massachusetts take part in a massive Feb. 5 presidential primary means they must endure a number of logistical headaches.The shift from March 4 to the February primary date would make Massachusetts one of more than 20 states across the country selecting Democrat and Republican standard bearers that day for the Nov. 4 presidential general election.”This gives the voters a chance to have some input in deciding who are going to be the nominees,” said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin.Primaries are a crucial part of the presidential nominee selection process over the spring months leading into the summer campaign season preceding the November 2008 election.Primaries are also the first chance voters get once every four years to weigh in on their choice for president.Democrats and Republicans select a choice from their party’s choice of candidates and unenrolled voters can declare themselves a Democrat or Republican on primary day and change their voting status back to unenrolled after they vote in the primary.Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Senate favor the date change and the Massachusetts House is expected to weigh in on the idea this week.In 2004, 19 percent of Revere voters cast ballots in the presidential primary and 18.5 percent of registered Democrats and unenrolled voters cast ballots statewide in the Democratic primary.McNiff said sticking to the March primary date could mean Massachusetts voters would be going to the polls weeks after a sizeable chunk of the national voting base selected the leading presidential contenders.But changing the primary date means work for the people who make sure voting booths are set up and poll workers are hired to oversee the election process.Peabody Clerk Tim Spanos must check with the mostly older residents who work on Election Day and make sure they have not made plans to leave the state for warmer weather in February.Lynn Clerk Mary Audley said the specter of an earlier primary leaves her with not much time to make a number of scheduling changes and develop contingency plans in the event of bad weather.She arranged with school officials to shorten the school day on March 4 so that the English High School cafeteria could be converted into a polling place. Now she has to see if the same arrangement can be made on Feb. 5.”What if we get a blizzard? Does that mean I have to plow out every polling place? People think all this voting stuff happens by itself. It doesn’t,” Audley said.McNiff said Galvin understands the clerks’ concerns and agrees with other secretaries of state who think the political process needs long-term primary reform. The secretaries envision a system that divides the nation into four primary regions with each region voting in a different month between March and June.Massachusetts would be in the Northeast primary region and regions would switch the order in which their voters cast ballots from one presidential election year to the next.

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