Thousands Of Voters In Lowell, Haverhill Placed On Inactive Voter Lists

HAVERHILL, Mass. — Thousands of registered voters could show up at the polls on Election Day only to be told that they have been put on the inactive voter list.

Voters on the inactive list can still vote, but it’s a time-consuming process. It involves showing ID and filling out an affidavit. If you don’t have your ID, you have to fill out a provisional ballot that may be counted later.

The problem is especially acute in Haverhill, where city officials fear major problems at the polls. Haverhill’s mayor, James Fiorentini, says 16,000 voters were placed on the inactive voter rolls. He says if a quarter of them show up on Election Day, there will be a big backup at the polls. Fiorentini says he’s not really certain what happened.

“In the past several years, with budget cuts, all of the cities have had to make difficult cuts, and we haven’t been able to keep our lists up to date,” Fiorentini said. “We’re going to make one more appeal to the Secretary of State’s Office. I’m going to try to reach the secretary of State personally, because we do not want long lines on Election Day. I’m going to try to put extra people on Election Day. We’re going to try to accommodate them. But we see this as a major problem coming up.”

Haverhill is taking steps to get voters on the inactive list to remedy the problem before Election Day. It has sent out two postcards to those on the inactive list. Fiorentini is planning a robo-call to voters on the inactive list, urging them to get in touch with the clerk’s office to address the issue. And the city has also taken out a newspaper ad.

In Lowell, the problem is even bigger. Normally, the city has 12,000 to 13,000 inactive voters. This year, the list surged to 21,000. But because the Lowell elections office failed to send a follow-up card as required, the secretary of State and the city solicitor intervened to place most of those voters back on the rolls. The city solicitor is also taking steps to publicize the problem, and she promises an investigation after the election.

In Haverhill, the city did do the right thing and sent the follow-up cards, and so Fiorentini says he has no remedy.

“We were not able to get the relief that Lowell got,” Fiorentini said. “The state indicated that we had done everything correctly. In retrospect, frankly, I wish we had not been so diligent.”

The problem with inactive voter lists could play a deciding role in the tight U.S. Senate race. Haverhill and Lowell are critical in that race. Democrat Martha Coakley won most cities two years ago, but Haverhill and Lowell went for Scott Brown.

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  • MerrimackValleyHypnosisCenter

    As a small business owner, I find voting even more important than ever in this upcoming election. 

    Town hall will easily and rapidly get you into the registration rolls in just a few minutes. Be sure that your voice is heard this election!


  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

    I reported that I was not able to vote in the September election because I was placed on the inactive list.  No one seemed to care.  When I called the clerks’ office at City Hall, a very rude woman (not the clerk herself but someone else working in the office) told me it stated very clearly on the census form that a voter “shall be” put on the inactive list if the form was not returned.  Since I voted in every election since 1964, I don’t understand how my name was placed on the inactive list.  Suddenly, it seems that if one does not return ones census form, he/she is put on the inactive list.  I never returned the census form before unless I had recently moved to a new city. I have been in Haverhill for 7 years (I’m not proud of that fact  BTW). 

    I am convinced that there are parties in government roles who want to discourage voting.  I knew this kind of thing happened in Arizona and Florida but I never expected to see it in Massachusetts.

    I am all set now. I have a special number to call the city clerk on Election Day if I have a problem voting and, better than that, I also have a phone number from the ACLU to call. I still don’t have a photo ID but my new passport should be arriving soon. 

    I just want to warn people to stand their ground and insist on voting. I never had to show a picture ID in my life and now that I’m retired I don’t maintain a drivers license.  Hopefully the City of Haverhill will accept my passport since foreign countries accept it. 

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys


      The Secretary of State’s office told us that not returning the census is not enough to place you on the the inactive voter list; you must also not have voted in the previous two elections, and must have failed to return the follow-up card.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

        I did vote in the last two elections. I was still placed on the inactive roll. 

        • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys


          then you definitely should not have been placed on the inactive roll. 

          I just spoke to the Secretary of State’s office. They confirm that in order to be placed on the inactive voter roll, you must first fail to respond to the census, then fail to vote in two consecutive state elections. Only then can you be placed in the inactive list. 

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

        I just checked again at the Haverhill City Clerks office and was told I voted in at least the last 6 elections. Not the one on September 8 
        (or thereabouts) because I was denied the vote because I could not show a picture ID. I have been voting since 1964 and I am sick of what is happening in this country. It used to be free.

      • Mike LaBonte

         The state VRIS software is used by clerks to automatically mark voters inactive. If the clerk said nancyka has voted in the last 6 elections, that information had to come from the VRIS database. So if VRIS knows that nancyka has voted recently why would it mark her inactive? My theory would be that either the Secretary of State does not know how the software works, or there is some quirk that makes the software hard to use correctly.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

        I just got an phone message from the Mayor of Haverhill. I had suggested that he fix the problem now and not wait until election day. He replied that it is a state issue, not a city issue and there is nothing he can do. Did I mention that his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

        • Mike LaBonte

           The Haverhill Mayor is right. This is not a problem only in Lowell and Haverhill, there are news reports of unusually high inactive voter counts throughout Massachusetts. The Secretary of State’s VRIS software is almost certainly the culprit.

          The clerks do not mark voters inactive manually, the state software chooses who to mark inactive automatically. The only role the clerks play is to enter the lists of who voted after each election, and enter the lists of people reported on returned census forms each year. When the census entries are all done the clerks do a “Mass Inactivate”, which tells VRIS to begin marking people inactive.

          If the software worked right it would not inactivate any voter for whom it knows the voting history. The fact that the clerk can say nancyka voted is proof that the software didn’t work right.

        • Mike LaBonte

           I should mention that I am on the Board of Registrars in Haverhill. That volunteer position does not give me very much exposure to all functions of VRIS, so I am trying to be cautious in making claims about what the software actually does and does not do. The municipal clerks do the vast majority of registration and election work, so their word trumps mine.

          Anyone however can apply simple logic to determine that if the software reports someone has voted in all recent elections but they are now marked inactive, then one of these must be true:

          - The software marked them inactive automatically
          - They were manually marked inactive by mistake (not completely sure if this can be done).

          I do not doubt claims by the Secretary of State that voters SHOULD be regarded as active if they have voted in recent elections. That makes sense. What I seriously doubt is that clerks in a good number of Massachusetts cities have manually marked people inactive even though they voted.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

            I see your point. But shouldn’t the people in Haverhill who control the elections be talking with the Secretary of State’s office. I don’t like the idea of taking a wait and see attitude as the mayor seems to and not doing anything proactive until the day of the election. This is a very important election and I want to do all that I can to make sure all voters are allowed to vote. Suddenly, after all these years, being made to show a picture ID is not the answer for many seniors who no longer drive or the poor who are less likely to have a photo ID on them. And if voting is being restricted that automatic phone service the city has at its disposal should be activated with a message to voters explaining what they need to be able to vote. 

            If someone is trying to suppress the vote, this is a great way of accomplishing that.  

          • Mike LaBonte

            First the clerks have to wait until the deadline for census form returns to pass, and then they have to enter them all into the state database. Then they run the mass inactivate and cross their fingers, hoping there will not be many. Officials in Haverhill, and I’m sure in every city that has a high count, have been very concerned about this and in frequent contact with the Secretary of State to figure out what can be done.

            Haverhill has tried to reach out to voters in every possible way, and the clerk’s office has had a constant flood of people coming to make sure they can vote and that it will go smoothly. There have been postcards, robocalls, newspaper ads, emails, and now WBUR has helped out. The counter in that office often serves four people at a time, most of them coming in to make sure their status is active. They have never been busier. There will be extra efforts to make the paperwork go quickly at the polls too, for any voters still inactive.

      • Mike LaBonte

        While it makes sense that voting should keep people on the active voters list, and that seems to be what the SoS has said, I just checked the laws and find it is not true. Only responding to the annual census keeps voters active. I now believe the VRIS software is working as the law intends.

        Actually there is one other thing that would keep voters active: clerks sometimes not running the “mass inactivate” command after the census. If people in households that did not return their census forms find they are still active voters after the census, maybe the reason is that no one was inactivated that year. That might offer one explaination why quite a few Massachusetts towns and cities have many inactive voters, but others don’t.

        • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys


          in Worcester, they had a very small increase in the inactive voter list, and they did run the “mass inactivate” command. So there is still a mystery out there as to why this seems to be a particular problem in Haverhill and Lowell. 

          • Mike LaBonte

             My next question would be “what were the response rates to the annual census?”. Maybe some cities get most of them back and others have a low return rate. The census forms make it clear that staying on the voter list depends on returning the form. It does not go into the detail, however, that failure to return it initially only puts you on the inactive voter list, and that complete removal happens only after you fail to return your census forms AND don’t vote for two state elections.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

    I dont know why but I am really anxious for this matter to be cleared up. It seems that everyone who should know what’s going on has been informed. But still, it seems that no one is doing anything about it beyond talking. 

    One remedy is to get that auto phone going and calling up the 14,000 and telling them they may have a problem voting and also telling them to bring some proof of identity (even though that is so un-American). The closer to the election we get, the harder it is going to be to get the vote out. Haverhill  is not exactly the epicenter of voting responsibility in the country but every vote counts.  It really bothers me that 14,000 people won’t find out until election day that the have been put on the inactive list. 

    Am I the only one who gives a damn?

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