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Officials: Mail-in ballots exceed past state primary turnout

Morgyn Joubert, Audrey Russo

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Friday was the last day for early in-person voting for the Massachusetts primaries.

After the polls close Friday evening, voters will have to either cast their ballot in-person or apply for a mail-in ballot and place it in one of the drop-boxes by 8 p.m. September 1st. This comes as primary turnout has already far-exceeded the turnout in years past. The day of the primary election is still four days away, and already, the turnout has superseded votes cast in the last three state primary races held during a presidential election year. The vast majority of those ballots were cast using the vote-by-mail option. The COVID-19 pandemic may be keeping people in their homes, but it's bringing the votes out in droves. Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the vote-by-mail option to keep crowds down at the primary polls on September 1st, and now state numbers show the voters are using it.

The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office provided Western Mass News data from Friday morning, showing more than 776,000 voters participated in early voting. More than 600,000 of them used vote-by-mail.

There has been a voter turnout of 16.76-percent before the actual primary has even been held. That far surpasses the average contest held during a presidential election year, and it approaches the average turnout rate for primaries held when the White House isn't up for grabs.

"Two years ago, for example, there was a competitive race in the third district of Massachusetts," said MassVOTE's communications manager Alex Psilakis. Psilakis explained to Western Mass News why state primaries, held during presidential election years, usually don't receive high turnout.

"There’s so much attention given to the presidential race that a lot of people don’t think about the primaries," Psilakis explained.

Two competitive state primaries for western Mass. are likely driving voters, including the Congressional race between Richard Neal and Alex Morse, and the Senate race between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy.

Springfield voters have already turned out at a rate of close to nine-percent before primary day. In 2016, the whole primary race only brought out around 13-percent of voters.

With COVID-19 bringing out so much discussion of what life will look like after the pandemic, Psilakis said he supports vote-by-mail becoming a permanent part of a new normal.

"If you look at a system where voter turns out is high, that’s the type of system you should be replicating. I mean, it’s terrible that a pandemic has to expose the flaws in our system, but the flaws are there," Psilakis said.

Officials working with the Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth said continuing mail-in voting could be a topic they discuss with the legislature next year.

This story originally appeared on Western Mass News. Check it out here!


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