Secretary of Commonwealth asks legislature to expand early voting options for Massachusetts

Secretary of Commonwealth asks legislature to expand early voting options for Massachusetts

BOSTON — Massachusetts voters could have expanded options to ensure they get the chance to vote this fall if a plan by Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin is implemented.

Galvin released his plans Wednesday to allow more in-person early voting and expanded vote-by-mail options for the state’s Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general elections.

“The main reason is to make sure that no voter has to sacrifice their health to vote if they wish to,” Galvin said in a phone interview with Boston 25 News on Wednesday.

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Galvin wants to expand vote-by-mail options and include 18 days of early voting, including two weekends, for the Nov. 3 election.

“I want to make sure that any voter who wants to cast their ballot by mail is able to do so this fall, but it is also essential that we preserve in-person voting as an option for those who need it,” Galvin said. “The best way to do that is to spread it out over as many days as possible, to avoid crowding in the polling places.”

Right now, early voting by mail is only accepted in a two-week early voting period prior to the election and there’s no option for requesting a no-excuse mail-in ballot for the September primary.

Galvin is asking legislators to allow officials to mail early ballots to any voter requesting one as soon as they are ready.

“We need to have our plan in place very soon, so that my office can order a sufficient number of mail-in ballot materials for voters, and so that voters can start getting those ballots,” Galvin said. “The more time our local election officials have to prepare, the more smoothly this election will run for everyone.”

Galvin said his office will work with the post office to ensure voters do not need to pay postage.

The proposal also increases options for returning an early ballot, which right now can only be returned by mail or in person by the voter. Galvin’s plan would allow voters to return their ballots to an official drop box or ask a family member to deliver the ballot by hand.

Also included in the package are provisions for voters who are hospitalized or quarantined immediately before the election. Galvin’s office is proposing that voters admitted to a healthcare facility or forced to self-quarantine within one week of the election be allowed to designate someone to hand-deliver a ballot to them.

In mid-April, Sen. Rebecca Rausch (D) filed a bill to expand voting in the Commonwealth that would call for getting ballots to all registered voters for the primary and state election, as well as providing protective gear for poll workers.

She said there would be no need to request a ballot under her plan, calling it an opt-out system, versus Galvin’s proposal. Galvin confirmed that his bill calls for voters to opt-in.

“If you mean voters have to express interest in voting as opposed to mailing a blank ballot to multiple parties to everybody as if it was some sort of Publishers Clearing House contest, we’re not going to do that. It would undermine the integrity of the electoral process that’s why we won’t do it,” Galvin said.

Researchers at Tufts University recently published a report on expanding voting options. They told Boston 25 News, until a final plan is chosen, it’s tough to pinpoint the true cost but likely would be in the tens of millions of dollars range, which could be covered by state and federal funds.

“In 2016, about 4% of registered voters were sent ballots,” said Evan Horowitz, Executive Director of the Center for State Policy Analysi, at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. “So if we’re going to send out ballots to 70% of registered voters, that is going to take a lot more money, a lot more organization.”

Horowitz said there are also equity concerns that come with potential changes to in-person voting as communities of color historically prefer in-person voting should any polling sites be consolidated.

“One of the worst things you can do in an election like this is that you try to expand access and end up only expanding it for certain groups of the population while marginalizing others, particularly groups that are marginalized in all kinds of other ways,” said Horowitz.

Galvin told Boston 25 News he considered voting equity with his proposals.

“It’s very important that everyone has the same rights, that no community is deprived of the rights depending on where people live. It shouldn’t affect their right to vote,” said Galvin.

“One of the other aspects of my proposal is it mandates for the early in-person voting that there be weekend hours. In the past, we’ve had some communities that have refused to have weekend voting hours for the early in person; we have a problem with that. We think that, very often, people only have time to vote early in person on the weekends, so we’ve insisted on that as well.”

Galvin is encouraging the Legislature to act quickly on the proposal, as the printing of ballots for the State Primary will begin immediately after the upcoming June 2 candidate filing deadline.

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