Coronavirus may postpone Western Mass senate election: Candidate Give Opinions on Delay
Days before legislative leaders announced they were moving to postpone elections to fill vacant four elections to fill vacant House and Senate seats, candidates running for senate in Western Massachusetts said they believed voting could go on safely and should happen. While Republican John Cain said he still is hoping the legislature will not go forth with re-scheduling the March 31 election to fill the vacant senate seat for the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, his opponent Democrat State Rep. John Velis said he will not fight the effort.
Both men earlier this week said they wanted to see the election go on as scheduled.
“With the crisis they need representation in Western Mass, and they need fiscally-conservative representation because of the economy,” Cain said in a statement. “The legislature needs someone who can solve a crisis.”
Days earlier Cain said he felt it was vital to have someone in the seat to represent the 11 communities of Westfield, Agawam, Holyoke, Easthampton, Southwick, Tolland, Russell, Montgomery, Granville, Southampton and part of Chicopee.
The district has been without a senator since Donald Humason resigned in January after being elected as mayor of Westfield.
After speaking to the leadership at the House and Senate, Velis said the new coronavirus is constantly changing policies and procedures and understands the reason for the legislature’s proposals. He said leaders are still working to craft the legislation.
“I’m disappointed. I put my heart and soul into this election for nine months but the health and well-being of the people in the second Hampden/Hampshire District is of paramount concern,” Velis said. Previously he said was not in favor of postponing the election, saying people have fought and died for the right to vote.
Veils, a Major in the U.S. Army Reserves, recalled his experience of serving overseas and being part of a team that helped oversee parliamentary elections in 2018.
“We attempted to convey to Afghans that they should go to the polls at the risk of stepping on a roadside bomb, having their hands cut off and having their polling station attacked by the Taliban,” he said. “Thousands upon thousands showed up.”
Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced Thursday afternoon that they would take up an elections bill on Monday.
The step comes as the calls from candidates and voting access advocates to delay certain deadlines, including signature-gathering requirements, have mounted in light of government orders for people to keep their distance from one another to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Spilka said the legislation would give cities and towns "flexibility" with regard to local elections this spring, including the ability to temporarily postpone elections. She said it would also ensure that voters had expanded absentee and mail-in voting options.
The proposal comes as communities across the state closed schools and shuttered town halls to the public to prevent the spread of the disease. Several city clerks in the district said people could still apply for absentee ballots for the election but would have to do that online or by mail and time was waning.
On Thursday Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse wrote to Secretary William F. Galvin urging him to postpone the election. The letter came after City Clerk Brenna McGee said she was unable to find hand sanitizer and other supplies and was concerned about finding enough poll workers.
“The city uses four station voting booths which do not allow for 6 feet between residents. Our election workers also handle the ballots at the end of the day which could cause contamination,” he said. “I believe that holding the election at this time would put the public health and safety in unnecessary danger.”
The non-profit agency MassVote, which promotes voter turnout and education also pushed for the delay of the election due to health concerns.
“Postponing, even for a few weeks, would allow municipalities time to better adapt to the public health crisis, and provide voters the opportunity to adjust to their new daily lives. This would ultimately create a more safe and secure electoral environment, while fostering circumstances for higher voter turnout,” Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director, said in a letter.
Material from State House Service was used in this story.