Top elections official urges quick action on mail-in voting
BOSTON (AP) — With current no-excuse mail-in voting laws set to expire at the end of the month, state lawmakers need to hurry up and take action to extend those rights through the end of the year, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said Tuesday.
Up to 21 cities and towns, including Boston, have preliminary municipal elections scheduled for Sept. 14, with another 13 cities scheduled to hold elections on Sept. 21.
Without an extension, the cities will be unable to let voters cast ballots by mail without having an excuse, or to hold in-person early voting for their city elections, Galvin said in a letter to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano, both Democrats.
Several local elections scheduled for July will also be affected without a new law in place, Galvin said.
“For budgetary and planning purposes these cities must have clarity,” Galvin, also a Democrat, wrote to both legislative leaders. “Urgent action is needed.”
Without an extension of the voting options, residents in cities face the possibility of being unable to submit applications to vote by mail in their upcoming fall elections, he added.
There’s significant support on Beacon Hill for extending the voting options that were adopted during the pandemic and proved popular with voters.
Democratic Sen. Barry Finegold, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, said he’s working with fellow state lawmakers to make vote-by-mail and other election changes permanent in Massachusetts.
“Mail-in and early voting options helped empower voters and generate record-breaking turnout in 2020,” Finegold said in a written statement Monday. “Together, we can build on the progress we’ve already made and ensure that everyone can exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
More than 3.6 million residents cast ballots in the 2020 general election — about 76% of all registered voters and the highest voter turnout in close to three decades.
Earlier this month, the state Senate approved a bill extending mail-in voting through Dec. 15. At the time, the Massachusetts House voted to make mail-in voting and early voting a permanent fixture in Massachusetts. The two chambers have yet to agree on a single bill.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has also expressed support for extending mail-in voting and early voting options in Massachusetts.
Both chambers sent a bill to Baker last week which extended some pandemic-era policies that had expired — such as allowing restaurants to offer take-out cocktails, letting government bodies continue to hold virtual public hearings and extending some protections for tenants facing eviction — but failed to include an extension of mail-in voting in the bill, which Baker signed.
Spilka and Mariano said in a joint statement that lawmakers from both chambers will “continue working together to resolve items in the near-term that were not included” in the bill, including the expanded voting measures.
In March, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate approved a bill, which Baker quickly signed that extended mail-in and early voting options through the end of June. The vote-by-mail provision had been set to expire at the end of March.
Extending the voting options was designed to help cities and towns holding municipal elections in the spring, supporters said at the time. The options were originally approved last year as part of the state’s effort to make voting easier and safer during the pandemic.
Some Republican lawmakers raised concerns in March about extending the voting options before first conducting an analysis of how the options worked last year to identify any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats.
Galvin has said he supports making mail-in voting an option for all future elections.