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.
This program aired on October 17, 2012.