Mail-in voting debate heats up with help from Trump

Various proposals on the table for Mass. elections

AS MORE STATES consider mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, the issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Trump took to Twitter earlier this week to warn of widespread voter fraud from the practice. That prompted Twitter to add a link to two of his tweets encouraging readers to “get the facts” by reading stories debunking Trump’s claim.

That, in turn, has generated a classic no-holds-barred Trump attack on the social media platform.

Trump claimed to his 80 million followers that mail-in voting is particularly susceptible to fraud, saying that ballots are stolen from mailboxes, voter signatures are routinely forged, and ballots are illegally printed. He also alleged, without any supporting evidence, that California has sent ballots to undocumented immigrants in a move to allow “anyone” to vote.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support laws that enable voting by mail, and a Washington Post story reported that there was no voter fraud found in the elections that Trump has pointed to in his tweets. After Twitter moved to label his posts as misleading, Trump decided to channel his rage into an executive order that would limit legal protections for social media companies.

He said the tech companies have “unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter” a large sphere of human interaction. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote, “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.” The president’s move will undoubtedly be challenged in court.

While the politicizing of mail-in voting continues nationwide, the issue is of pressing concern in Massachusetts, where Secretary of State William Galvin has said he wants to begin printing ballots for fall elections as soon as next week.

The crux of current balloting discussion: Voters are concerned that they may catch the virus in packed polling places and long voting lines, as happened in Wisconsin.

“Voters should not have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of the advocacy group Common Cause Massachusetts on Radio Boston. Her take is that the best option is mail-in ballots.

Galvin’s proposed plan would allow any Massachusetts voter to request a mail-in ballot, and clerks could begin sending out ballots as soon as they are printed. He would also extend early voting at polling locations to an 18-day period ahead of the general election, and for seven days ahead of the September 1 primary.

Voters currently can’t vote by mail outside of the two-week early voting period before a general election, and there are no such early voting options for primaries.

Nearly three out of four respondents to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe/WGBH News poll said they would support conducting all voting for the September primary and November general by mail.

Reps. John Lawn, who co-chairs the Election Laws Committee, and Michael Moran have filed a universal vote-by-mail bill that would require the state to mail ballots to every Massachusetts voter before the November 3 election.

There are five states that have adopted universal vote by mail.

Voting by mail in Massachusetts could carry a hefty price tag, with a recent report citing estimates for the November election by mail of $12 to $30 million. Other concerns include ballots being sent to the wrong address in a state where young people move frequently.

“The prospect of stacks of ballots being sent to the wrong places or people with more than one ballot raises the concern that someone can use it to undermine faith in the election,” said Evan Horowitz, of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University. “How do you weigh that as a risk?”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Lawmakers say that COVID-19 election relief funding outlined in the federal CARES Act can be used to offset mailing costs.

Deep partisan division remains around sending in ballots by mail, according to a Reuters poll. Overall, 59 percent of Americans believe their state should expand mail-in voting, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. That broke down to 43 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, voting rights lawsuits, including some related to mail-in ballots, have multiplied around the country.