WHEN THE LEGISLATURE passed an unprecedented expansion of mail-in voting, they did it for this year only, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that makes crowding into polling places unsafe.
But now, amid record-breaking turnout in this week’s primary, some are calling for mail-in voting to become a permanent feature of Massachusetts elections.
“Voter turnout in the September 1 primary makes one thing abundantly clear– vote by mail should be here to stay,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, a coalition that aims to expand voting access, in a statement.
The last time turnout in a state primary election topped 1 million was in 1990, when 1.5 million people voted. This year, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin says that turnout will be more than 1.5 million, although he still did not have a final number.
Before the primary, Galvin attributed the expected high turnout to the intensity of some of the races, including the statewide US Senate race between Rep. Joe Kennedy and Sen. Ed Markey. But it has also become increasingly clear that the enormous popularity of mail-in voting has also had a major impact, with more than 1.3 million people requesting mail-in ballots.
Galvin told WCVB’s “On the Record” that he thinks mail-in voting is here to stay “in some fashion.” He added: “We have to make sure it’s an option for voters as long as we can protect the integrity of the process.”
But to make mail-in voting permanent, the glitches that marred Tuesday’s primary will have to be worked out. The hotly contested 4th Congressional District primary was only called for Jake Auchincloss at 1:30 a.m. on Friday because of ballots left uncounted on Election Day, largely due to processes related to mail-in voting. For example, the Franklin clerk left 3,000 early ballots uncounted in a vault, while other towns did not count mail-in ballots that arrived close to the deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Michael Palmer, the Falmouth town clerk, said in an interview with CommonWealth that this election proved that allowing voting by mail leads to enormous turnout. “I don’t see us going back. I see us expanding that on that concept of voting early and voting early by mail,” Palmer said.
But on the flip side, Palmer said, while mail-in voting made it easier for voters, it created a lot more work for elections administrators. “We have to do something about processing these ballots and the process of getting them out to people,” he said.