Election officials hoping early voting will ease pressure on polls

BOSTON — State election officials are urging voters to educate themselves before the early voting period begins next week.

It's the first time in Massachusetts history that residents can cast a ballot before election day.

But some officials worry about pressure on the polls.

Those overseeing this historic election are expecting a large turnout, but still don't know what impact early voting will have on when ballots are cast.

"I think it's very important that everybody gets out and votes, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat," voter Jimmy Penta said.

We caught up with Penta inside Everett's Election Commission office moments after he cast his absentee ballot. But it was the signs about early voting next to his ballot that caught his attention.

"I don't think a lot of people really understand it right now, I just found out myself," Penta said.

Election officials say despite a public education campaign, they worry many voters won't take advantage of the new early voting law.

"First of all, we have to define it," Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said. "Activists and political junkies probably know what early voting is, but the average citizens probably don't."

Voters can now cast their ballot in the 10 days leading up to the general election. The state provided financial help for many cities and towns to cover the extra hours at the polls and hope it will lead to shorter lines on Nov. 8.

"Some communities have enthusiastically embraced this," Galvin said.

One of those communities is Everett, where all pollworkers have been encouraged to participate in early voting. But the chair of the election commission isn't expecting record numbers for early voting, despite record numbers of registered voters.

"We actually just broke over 21,000 voters for the first time in a decade so there is definitely some interest in this election," Everett Election Commission Chair Andrew Delory said.

Officials do say they think this election will be a learning curve for voters and that more will take advantage of early voting in the next election cycle.

Most cities have posted their early voting locations and hours on their websites.