Voting reforms reinvigorated democracy
Room for improvement, but in general they worked
AT THE START of July, the Legislature passed a landmark bill to expand early voting, implement a secure vote-by-mail system, and strengthen safety measures for in-person voting. Tuesday’s primary was the first major test of these important reforms. They worked.
More people voted in this year’s state primary than ever before. According to preliminary data, over 1.6 million voters cast ballots, totaling more than a third of all registered voters. In recent state primaries, fewer than 1 million voters have showed up at the polls, with voter participation rates mired in the teens and low twenties. This year, several competitive races for Congress helped increase voter participation, but the high turnout was also a product of Massachusetts’ new election laws. In the face of an ongoing pandemic, Massachusetts did not simply protect voting rights—we reinvigorated our democracy.
The Legislature’s voting reforms gave voters several different ways to cast their ballot. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, voters had the choice to vote by mail, to vote in person during a week-long early voting window, or to vote in person on the day of the election. The intent was to empower voters to vote in a way that worked best for them, and it is clear that people availed themselves of the opportunity. Over 1 million people requested mail-in ballots, 180,000 people voted during early voting, and hundreds of thousands more went to the polls on election day. While the vast majority of people who requested a mail-in ballot were able to return it successfully, voters still had the ability to vote in person if they encountered difficulties in the vote-by-mail process.
Thanks to the hard work of Secretary of State William Galvin and local election officials across the Commonwealth, the new voting procedures were implemented in a methodical and accountable manner without compromising the security of our election system. Voters could track when their local clerk sent out mail-in ballots and whether the clerk had received their completed ballots. Additionally, voters had to sign an affidavit on their mail-in ballot in order to ensure the validity and integrity of the election. Furthermore, as required by the Legislature’s new voting law, municipalities that modified polling locations provided public notice well in advance of election day. After the polls closed on September 1, election officials counted results in a transparent, accurate, and largely efficient process.
Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover and Rep. John Lawn of Watertown are the chairs of the Joint Committee on Election Laws in the Massachusetts Legislature.