Harvard voters have an extra two months to make up their minds about which candidate to support in the contest between Cathy Clark and Dan Sena to represent the 37th Middlesex District in the state Legislature. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature voted earlier this week to delay special elections for vacant seats in the House of Representatives until June 2. The new law also makes all voters eligible to cast an absentee ballot if they wish to.
Cathy Calrk. (Courtesy photos)
The special election, which was originally scheduled for next Tuesday, March 31, is to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Rep. Jennifer Benson last December. Districts where a seat in the state Senate is vacant will vote sooner, in special elections on May 19; but that is not an issue for Harvard.
Both candidates in the race to replace Benson supported the change. Clark, the Republican candidate, wrote in an email, “I was happy to hear of the postponement given the unprecedented and continued fluid situation with the pandemic. It only made sense. From poll workers to voters everyone should feel comfortable and safe when they go to vote.”
Democratic candidate Sena had a similar reaction. “I share the concern that everyone has,” he said in a phone call. “I fully support the postponement.”
Clark wrote she welcomed the extra time. “The change in date gives us more of an opportunity to speak with voters and hear their concerns about our district in the meantime. We have ceased door knocking but are still doing outreach and truly appreciate all the input we have received thus far.”
Far from from needing more time to decide, however, many people have already voted by absentee ballot, and more are doing so every day. Those ballots will remain in Town Clerk Marlene Kenney’s hands and will not be counted until June 2.
But suppose someone who cast an absentee ballot later has a change of heart and wants to vote for the other candidate? Kenney explained in an email that a voter can still decide to vote in person as long as their absentee ballot has not been counted yet. “[I]f a voter who already returned an absentee ballot instructs this office in writing before the June 2 election that they want to vote in person at the polls, their absentee ballot will be rejected and they may vote in person at the polls,” she wrote.
While the state Legislature set the dates for the special state election, it also empowered towns to reschedule their own local elections. Towns have up to the last day of June to hold any elections that were originally expected to take place sooner.
Harvard’s Select Board had already chosen May 11 as the new date for the Town Caucus, when registered voters can nominate candidates for seats on the Select Board, School Committee, Library Trustees, and Warner Free Lecture Trustees. Current officials will continue to hold office until the Town Election, which the Select Board has scheduled for June 23. The state’s approval of the new law this week made the new caucus and election dates official.