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Local officials reject concerns about voter fraud as they prepare for the election

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Brockton Elections Executive Director Cynthia Scrivani demonstrates for poll workers the proper way to set up a ballot box ahead of this fall's election. (Steve Brown/WBUR)
Brockton Elections Executive Director Cynthia Scrivani demonstrates for poll workers the proper way to set up a ballot box ahead of this fall's election. (Steve Brown/WBUR)

Republicans across the country have raised concerns about voter fraud over the past two years, including in Massachusetts. But with early voting set to begin this Saturday, the clerks actually running elections in local cities and towns across the state insist the elections are secure.

Brockton elections chief Cynthia Scrivani, who has overseen the city's elections for 22 years, says her staff has taken steps to make sure voters only receive one ballot by mail, even if they mistakenly sent in more than one request.

"We have caught some duplicates," Scrivani said at her office in City Hall, "because people mailed two cards back and I'm like, 'I don't know if you think we're going to mail you two ballots.'"

She said the staff also rigorously tests the equipment to make sure it correctly tallies all the ballots. "I think the only errors that would be made from the machines itself would be human errors," she said, adding that the equipment isn't connected to the Internet, so it can't be hacked online.

Brockton Election Executive Director Cynthia Scrivani confers with election department staffer Laurie Lemieux as they put ballots into envelopes to be sent to voters. (Steve Brown/WBUR)
Brockton Election Executive Director Cynthia Scrivani confers with election department staffer Laurie Lemieux as they put ballots into envelopes to be sent to voters. (Steve Brown/WBUR)

Elections officials like Scrivani have been under intense scrutiny since 2020, when Donald Trump falsely claimed he won the presidential election. Since then, many Trump supporters have repeated that claim or expressed concern about voter fraud.

Geoff Diehl, the Republican nominee for governor in Massachusetts, acknowledged in an NBC10 debate last week that Joe Biden was in fact elected president. But he also raised broader concerns that elections could be compromised.

"Right here in Massachusetts, we saw that 11,000 people attempted to do mail-in balloting and vote in person at the same time," he said, "so I felt like there was potential for election fraud."

The Secretary of State's office says Diehl's claim is false. It said only 327 ballots in the September primary were rejected because the person already voted. The rest of the 11,000 ballots were tossed for other reasons, such as arriving too late in the mail. And the agency says the fact that it caught the extra ballots proves the system works.

MIT Professor Charles Stewart, who founded the university's Election Data and Science Lab, agrees elections in the state are generally secure. He cites a number of reasons, including physical security features and audits. Moreover in Massachusetts, he notes that every ballot has a paper trail, since the state doesn't use purely electronic voting machines.

"So there's opportunities if there's any question about the results, to look at the ballots, to look at what the voters did," Stewart said.

He also said it would be difficult to steal an election with mail-in ballots, despite some Republican concerns about the potential for voter fraud when people need not show up to the polls in person.

"I would say that the mail balloting system in Massachusetts is as secure as in-person voting, he said. He added that bad people can always try to circumvent the system and get around the safeguards, but "it's hard to do that wholesale across the board."

Dozens of towns in Massachusetts also employ the same voting equipment they've used for decades.

Carlisle Ballot Box (Courtesy of Peggy Wang)
A Carlisle ballot box. (Courtesy Peggy Wang)

"Our ballots go into an old fashioned ballot box," said Carlisle Town Clerk Peggy Wang, adding a bell in the wooden box dings after the ballot is inserted and a metal hand crank is turned. "The ballots are removed when we get to a count of every 300 so that the box doesn't jam."

But even in the small town of Carlisle, Wang has heard increased concerns about election fraud.

She recalls one person brought in two ballots last year. But she said the staff quickly noticed that one ballot was for the primary and the other was for the general election.

"So people are a little jumpy and looking for us to make mistakes," Wang said.

Whenever people raise concerns, Wang said she tries to be open about the process, inviting them to volunteer to see how elections work.

While Election Day (Nov. 8) is still more than two weeks away, local election officials are already busy with early voting about to begin and voting by mail already underway.

In Brockton alone, over 7,000 voters have already requested mail-in ballots; voters have until Nov. 1 to request one. And the city has been training volunteers to operate the polls for those who would prefer to cast their ballots in person.

However people cast their ballots, local election officials say they will make sure every vote is counted.

This segment aired on October 20, 2022.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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