As the deadline approaches for absentee ballots for the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, many cities and towns have reported a huge surge in interest.
"In the beginning, even the applications that went out and the requests that came were minimal amounts," said Maria Tomasio, the chairwoman of the New Bedford Elections Department Board of Commissioners. "But now between the beginning of the week and today ... all of a sudden there was a huge surge."
Tomasio said requests have more than doubled in the past 10 days and that the department was struggling to keep up with the sudden requests.
In Boston, elections officials said more than 5,000 absentee ballots have been filed or requested. The number for the Senate primary on December 8 was about 2,500.
"We've been working late, we've been doing many many runs to the post office," said Boston Election Department Chairwoman Geraldine Cuddyer.
"When our mailroom is closed here at city hall if we're working late, we're driving over to South Postal. We're trying to keep up with the demand, because we want as many people as possible to participate in this very important election."
Explanations vary for the sudden increase. Election officials in Springfield point to media attention and an increasingly close race between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley. A poll released by Suffolk University on Thursday put the two at a statistical dead heat, with Brown leading Coakley by four percentage points.
Others point to Martin Luther King Day. With all government buildings closed for the holiday on Monday, Friday was the last day to apply for an absentee ballot, and officials say that may be the reason for the increase.
Not every town found itself overwhelmed. Joseph Shea, the Quincy city clerk, said: "It's not off the charts, but it's more than expected."
This program aired on January 15, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.