Massachusetts 2020 primary: More than 1.4 million cast ballots...
Massachusetts 2020 primary: More than 1.4 million cast ballots, but elections officials say new process has some kinks to work out.
More than 1.4 million Massachusetts voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, according to figures compiled by a voting rights organization Wednesday morning. And election officials are still counting.
As of 10 a.m., MassVOTE recorded 1.46 million votes cast in the primary, nearly one-third of eligible voters. The turnout is just one of several historic markers of Tuesday’s election. It’s also the first primary with early voting and vote-by-mail options for the majority of the public because of the COVID-19 mail-in voting law that took effect in July. But with a higher turnout and voting law changes came reports of missing mail-in ballot envelopes and hurdles at the polls for some voters, particularly those who applied to vote by mail but ended up voting in person. Secretary of State William F. Galvin said he was delighted with the outcome yesterday, but has some concerns about how the high level of interest in mail-in voting has on local election officials trying to determine how each ballot was cast. “We’ll surely refine some of the administrative procedures we saw yesterday. I’m encouraging everybody who is thinking about voting by mail to do so right away,” Galvin said. This primary’s turnout blew past the 2006 primary, where under 1 million people voted, and could rival the 1990 primary, where 1.55 million voters cast ballots. Mail-in voting make up a significant portion of the ballots. More than 1 million people had applied to vote by mail, Galvin said in August. His office did not have an updated estimate Wednesday. Common Cause Massachusetts, a voting rights advocacy group, dubbed mail-in voting the true winner of Tuesday’s primary. “Expanded mail voting helped over a million Bay Staters have their voices heard in yesterday’s election, from the safety of their own homes,” said Kristina Mensik, assistant director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “It also has deepened political participation by engaging voters in down-ballot races that too often see low participation – between 8.84 and 12% in similar primaries.” The last time more than 1 million votes were cast in the September primary of a presidential election was in 1984 when 1.12 million votes were cast, according to Common Cause and MassVOTE. As of Monday, more than 580,000 mail-in ballots had been received and more were coming in. It’s unclear, however, how many people applied to vote by mail and for whatever reason ended up voting in person. While most polling places avoided long lines during the pandemic, the voting process wasn’t entirely smooth. Some voters applied for mail-in ballots and never received them. Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, said voting rights advocates in Massachusetts were worried this would happen after seeing such a large volume of vote-by-mail applications. “We’re still waiting to see how many people requested ballots or never got them,” he said. “We’re expecting it to be in the hundreds, if not the thousands” In New Bedford and Medford, some voters received their ballots but were missing the interior yellow envelope that has their personal voter information and a signature line. In Medford, city officials tried to send yellow envelopes to voters who didn’t get them, even driving to their houses to hand deliver them. One voter who never got the yellow envelope, Liz Schwartz, told MassLive she was initially turned away when she tried to vote in person. Her records indicated she applied to vote by mail and had to come back with her unused mail-in ballot, a poll worker said. Schwartz said that didn’t sound right, but she didn’t fight it. She is on family leave and was able to return home for the unmailed ballot. “You’d think if you had to bring the ballot in to do that, it would say in the instructions,” Schwartz said‚ referring to the state’s vote-by-mail instructions. “It was just annoying, but I do worry about people who didn’t have the time or didn’t have their ballot.” Both Psilakis of MassVOTE and O’Malley of the Secretary of State’s office say voters like Schwartz should not have been asked to produce an unused mail-in ballot if they wanted to vote in person. The Boston Election Department said it experienced heavy call volumes on its absentee ballot phone lines Tuesday morning as poll workers tried to confirm that voters who applied to vote by mail didn’t already have an absentee ballot in the books (including this one). In a statement Tuesday night, the department said it spoke with Galvin’s office to “streamline this process” and let voters cast their ballot on site without waiting for verification. Galvin’s spokesperson, Debra O’Malley, said poll workers were instructed to stop calling so voters wouldn’t be held up, which could lead to longer lines in the middle of a global public health crisis. Poll workers in Boston found themselves trying to balance the need to keep people moving quickly and trying to prevent people from voting twice, a violation of federal law. “I talked specifically about my concern about voters unintentionally voting twice, and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen,” Galvin said, echoing concerns he raised during a news conference Monday. “Protecting the integrity of the election is extremely important to me.” Galvin said he hopes to see fewer concerns about last-minute ballot deposits. The sooner people apply to vote by mail and mail their ballots, the less strain on election clerks to tabulate the votes on Nov. 3. Then there was Shiva Ayyadurai, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who lost to Kevin O’Connor in the GOP primary. As of Wednesday morning, O’Connor had 60% of the vote to Ayyadurai’s 39.9%. Ayyadurai tweeted 100,000 mail-in ballots supporting him were destroyed and said his attorneys are preparing a lawsuit. He presented no evidence to support his claim. “Idk what Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai says,” Galvin said when asked about the claim. “I think the Republican Party made its choice yesterday, and it’s pretty decisive.” The general election is 62 days away. That’s under nine weeks for local election officials and poll workers to work out the kinks and prepare for a likely even higher turnout than what was seen at the polls Tuesday.