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As election nears, Hub voters look for answers

Dan Devine | 10/31/2008, 7:34 a.m.

With just days remaining before the Nov. 4 general election, the city’s Election Department is fielding numerous questions from voters, including droves of first-timers expected to flood polling places next Tuesday.

The department has received approximately 50,000 new voter registration forms since September, according to city officials, a number expected to increase as forms filed through the Registry of Motor Vehicles are tabulated. The influx of newcomers brings the total number of registered voters in Boston to about 380,000.

New and old voters alike have swarmed the department with questions in recent weeks. Geraldine Cuddyer, chair of Boston’s Board of Election Commissioners, said she has answered about 1,000 e-mails from residents unsure of election rules, like whether a voter registered in one part of the city can cast a ballot in another.

“If you’re registered in Roxbury, you must vote in Roxbury,” she said. “Just because there’s a polling location next to your work, that doesn’t mean you can vote there.”

In response to the questions, Cuddyer offered some information that could aid voters and election officials alike.

“If people know what they’re doing when they get to the polls, it’ll help everyone navigate their day,” she said.

Among the reminders and suggestions:

Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. If you’re on line when polls close, you’ll still be able to vote; if you arrive after 8 p.m., a police officer will prevent you from lining up. Crowds tend to thin between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Know where you’re supposed to vote. About 60 polling locations have changed since 2004, including a number of changes in the past two months. An updated list of sites is available at www.cityofboston.gov/elections.

Know your ward and precinct. Because many locations house multiple precincts, this can help save time getting in line for the correct check-in table. Voters can check their ward and precinct with the online Voter Registration Search tool at www.cityofboston.gov/elections/voter.

“Inactive” voters can still vote. Voters are considered “inactive” if they didn’t return the annual census form mailed this past February or if they moved without notifying election officials in writing of their address change by Oct. 15. They can still cast ballots, but the process is more complicated. They have to go to the polling place for the ward/precinct in which they were last registered, produce ID showing their current address, and fill out two forms — one saying they have maintained continuous residency in the city, the other a new registration for their new address — before they can vote.

Ballots are two-sided. There are three ballot questions this year — Question 1 will appear on the front side of the ballot, while Questions 2 and 3 are on the back. If you don’t check the back, you’ll miss the chance to vote on whether to decriminalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and whether to prohibit dog racing.

Have ID that shows who you are and where you live. First-time voters, “inactive” voters and those who have registered by mail since 2003 are among those who may be required to show identification, according to Cuddyer. If you don’t have one form of ID showing both your identity and your current address (like a valid Massachusetts driver’s license), make sure you have at least one that can confirm each (like a passport and a utility bill sent to your address).

Translators are available. Many locations will have translators to help non-English-speaking voters. If a location doesn’t have a translator for the language the voter speaks, an official will connect the voter to a city phone bank staffed with translators fluent in a variety of languages, including Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean, Portuguese and Somali.

For more information, call the Election Department at 617-635-3767 or visit www.cityofboston.gov/elections.