A partisan battle is brewing in the Legislature over vote-by-mail – with the first salvo coming on a seemingly innocuous bill to extend municipal voting by mail for another three months.
Since the state let citizens vote by mail for any reason in the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates have been calling to make vote-by-mail permanent.
Last month, House Speaker Ron Mariano announced that the House will authorize voting by mail for municipal elections through June as lawmakers work on a bill to make it permanent. “Since we first enacted vote by mail, it has proven to be secure and even increased voter turnout in many places,” Mariano said. “The House looks forward to making vote by mail a permanent way for residents to exercise their right to vote during and beyond the pandemic.”
Within days, Republicans who had served on the Election Laws Committee – Sen. Ryan Fattman of Webster, Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk, Rep. Marc Lombardo of Billerica, and Rep. Nicholas Boldyga of Southwick – wrote a letter to Mariano calling on lawmakers to seek more information from Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin on how the 2020 elections went. They reiterated a series of questions – which they previously asked Galvin, who had not responded – about how many ballots were returned as undeliverable and whether those voters ultimately voted, whether voters’ signatures on ballots were matched to their signatures on records, and the financial costs of voting by mail. (Galvin also supports extending vote-by-mail permanently.)
“It is important that lawmakers have this important information after the elections to analyze how we can identify the program’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats,” the Republican lawmakers wrote.
The State House News Service on Thursday flagged the fact that the House approved a bill to extend municipal voting by mail through June 2021 – along with several other bills – with no public hearing. The conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance criticized the House’s decision to move the bill through a lightly attended informal session.
“Informal sessions are becoming an avenue for controversial policies to be passed without a legislative vote or oversight and yesterday’s passage of an extension of mail in voting is further proof of that new trend,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesperson Paul Craney.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee then announced that it would be accepting public testimony on the bill.
According to a State House News Service transcript, Senate Republican Leader Bruce Tarr, during a Senate session Thursday, called it “unfortunate” that the bill came to the Senate with no public hearing. “Absent the ability to receive public input, it would not be appropriate for this measure to come before this body,” Tarr said.
Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons praised Tarr and Fattman for ensuring the bill had a public hearing – and criticized House Republican Leader Brad Jones for not calling for a hearing in the House. Lyons said Jones was “complicit” with House Democrats as “they effectively worked to keep this controversial piece of legislation away from the public.”
Senate Ways and Means chair Michael Rodrigues noted that the bill currently before lawmakers is limited – extending municipal voting by mail, which has been allowed for most of the past year, from March through June. But Rodrigues acknowledged, according to the News Service, that there will be a broader debate when lawmakers seek to make the changes permanent. “Please rest assured that everyone will have all the opportunity to participate openly in the debate on whether or not to make these changes long-term, post-pandemic,” Rodrigues said.
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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Economic Development Secretary Mike Kinneally says the newly passed housing provisions in an economic development bill will help alleviate the state’s housing crunch. (Salem News)
A proposed 312 apartment development in Hyannis stirs opposition. (Cape Cod Times)
The state developed a comprehensive vaccine distribution plan following the 9/11 attacks and anthrax scares in 2001, but shelved it to have private companies oversee COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Boston Globe)
A Northampton vaccine clinic is facing problems, from a lack of supply to people trying to illicitly book appointments. (MassLive)
Only 19 communities remain designated at “high risk” of transmitting COVID-19. (MassLive)
The DCU Center field hospital in Worcester will close in the next couple of weeks, but could be reactivated if necessary. (MassLive)
Hospital chaplains are playing a vital role in comforting patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. (South Coast Today)
Republican governors in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere are cancelling coronavirus restrictions as they look to establish their credentials in a Trump-shaped party that is hostile to government oversight of the pandemic. (Washington Post)
The New York Times uncovers more evidence of efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to hide the toll COVID-19 was taking on nursing home residents in New York.
The FBI arrested a political appointee of former president Donald Trump and charged him taking part in the Capitol insurrection, saying he was seen on videotape beating a police officer. Federico Klein, a former State Department staffer who is also an ex-Trump campaign employee, is the first member of the Trump administration arrested in connection with the rioting. (Washington Post)
By October 1, anyone looking to travel will need a federally approved REAL ID. (Patriot Ledger)
John Barros, who served as the top economic development official for Mayor Marty Walsh, touts his City Hall experience and small business background in launching his mayoral campaign. (Boston Herald)
Widett Circle in Boston, a huge swath that had been eyed as a potential site for an Olympic stadium, could become a huge Amazon distribution center. (Boston Globe)
Gunmaker Smith & Wesson saw its sales double last quarter compared to the previous year. (MassLive)
Secretary of State Wiliam Galvin’s office will review whether an investigative report commissioned by the Fall River school committee following allegations of harassment by the district’s superintendent, Matthew Malone, is a public record. (Herald News)
The potential closure of Becker College is shining a light on the precarious financial situation facing other small colleges during the pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette)
Black and Latino high students are lagging in completing federal financial aid forms, a sign of possible decline in their college enrollment numbers this fall. (Boston Globe)
Malcolm X’s childhood home in Boston is added to the National Register of HIstoric Places. (Associated Press)
The state will launch a major study of traffic and flooding problems along busy Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, which is seeing a surge of development projects. (Boston Globe)
The North of Boston Media Group editorial board comes out in support of significant fishing and hunting fee increases being proposed by Mass Wildlife.
A judge sided with Harvard University, turning aside a claim by a woman who demanded photos in the university’s possession of slaves she believes were her ancestors. The judge said the photos, no matter how objectionable the subject matter, belong to the photographer, not the subjects. (WBUR)
Dan Kennedy says the New York Times has a problem with columnist David Brooks and his outside gig. (Media Nation)