Galvin predicts near-record turnout in Tuesday primary

856,000 ballots already mailed in

SECRETARY OF STATE William Galvin is predicting near-record turnout in Tuesday’s state primary election, amid a vast expansion of voting by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Galvin said Monday that he expects between 1.2 million and 1.3 million Massachusetts residents will have cast ballots by the time the polls close at 8 p.m. tomorrow, out of the state’s 4.5 million registered voters.

Historically, state primary turnouts in Massachusetts have been below 1 million, the lone exception being the 1990 primary, where 1.5 million people voted. That year, Democrat John Silber and Republican Bill Weld each won contested primaries for their party’s nomination for governor.

“We made significant legislative changes earlier in the year in order to accommodate voters and they very much responded to that,” Galvin said at a pre-primary press conference, held on a State House lawn.

 

Due to COVID-19, Massachusetts for the first time is allowing any eligible voter to cast a ballot by mail. As of Monday morning, 768,000 Democratic ballots had been returned and 88,000 Republican ballots.

Another 400,000 ballots had been sent out to voters but not yet returned. Galvin predicted that maybe 10 percent of voters who requested ballots for all of this year’s elections were mostly interested in getting a general election ballot and would not to vote in the primary. But he predicted that a “significant number” of the outstanding mail-in ballots will be returned Monday or Tuesday.

The state also offered early voting for the first time in a primary election this year – a process previously allowed only in the general election. Galvin said 187,000 people cast ballots early in person.

Galvin predicted that another 250,000 to 300,000 people will vote in person on Election Day.

Due to COVID-19, many polling places have been moved to new locations. There will be social distancing requirements at polling stations, and poll workers have been given personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. “We’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure the polls are safe,” Galvin said.

While mail-in voting is easier than in-person voting, Galvin said he believes many of those who voted by mail are the same people who would have otherwise voted in person. He attributed the high turnout to interest in the contested Democratic primary for US Senate between Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy, and the multi-candidate race to fill Kennedy’s House seat. There are also some contested local legislative races.

Galvin suggested that the intensity of the November presidential election may also have sparked interest in the primary because people are aware of “the very significant political choices to be made this year.” And he said he noticed an uptick in voter interest even in the primary two years ago, when more than 700,000 people voted in a primary that featured only a single statewide competitive race – for secretary of state – as well as one open congressional seat.

Mail-in voting has not been without its hiccups. In Brookline, for example, the city sent some voters the wrong ballots. Galvin said there were also administrative problems in Medford and New Bedford. But Galvin said the issues were resolved and voters ultimately received the appropriate ballots. Galvin called the mistakes “regrettable” but said it’s “illustrative of the problem that to make things easier for voters, it put a lot more burden on administrators.”

Galvin said there were complaints about ballots taking a long time to arrive – which he said may be due to delays with the US Postal Service, although some clerks also had to deal with difficulties in getting lots of ballots out.

Anyone who requested a ballot but never turned it in, or whose ballot was not received in time, can vote in person. A ballot received after the polls close on Election Day will not be counted.

One open question is whether the volume of mail-in ballots will delay the vote-counting Tuesday night. Although ballots are being put into tabulating machines before Election Day, no ballots will be counted until the polls close. Typically, absentee ballots are counted at the polling place where the voter would otherwise be voting in person. This year, some communities with a large volume of mail-in ballots received permission from Galvin’s office to have a central tabulating facility at town hall where mail-in ballots can be counted. Galvin said he is hopeful the results will be known by Wednesday morning. But, he said, “I can’t say with certainty that it’s not going to be slower.”

Overall, Galvin said those who voted early tended to be in suburban and rural towns, not urban areas. Some communities in the 4th Congressional District, like Newton and Brookline, are also experiencing high turnout.

According to city and town-level numbers released by Galvin’s office as of 11 a.m. Monday, the wealthy suburbs of Lincoln, Lexington, and Concord all had at least 37 percent of registered voters cast ballots either early in-person or by mail. Some smaller, generally rural, communities, like Williamsburg, Shutesbury, Eastham, and Stow also had some of the highest numbers of registered voters cast early ballots.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

In Boston, just 12.7 percent of registered voters already voted, along with 14.4 percent of Worcester voters and 9.9 percent of Springfield voters.

Statewide, 19 percent of registered voters have already voted.