Voters report problems with mail-in ballots  

Issues leading to delays at polling places  

PETER O’DONNELL GONZALEZ had been eager to cast his vote in today’s primary for Sen. Ed Markey and Chelsea City Councilor Damali Vidot for state representative. The Charlestown resident submitted a request for a mail-in ballot more than a month ago, but never received it.  

Gonzalez has been working remotely from Washington, DC, where he has family, and has tried navigating the issue to no avail. Boston election officials told him by phone several weeks ago that they were behind in sending out ballots, and that he would receive it a week before the primary. He never did.  

With primary day voting underway, issues with the mail-in voting system are cropping up, along with other problems related to absentee voting. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts is allowing any eligible voter to cast a ballot by mail for the first time.  

“It’s currently primary day, and no ballot,” Gonzalez said from Washington. There was no clarification and I don’t have anywhere to turn to. I am very worried about receiving my ballot for the general election in November.” He said he’s considering a trip back to Boston for the general election, but worries about the COVID risks from traveling, pointing out that minimizing those risks is why mail-in voting was established.    

Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office said that as of poll opening time this morning, just under 950,000 ballots had already been cast, with 190,000 of those during the early voting period and the rest by mail. Another 273,000 ballots had been sent out to voters but not yet returned 

Voter advocacy group Common Cause Massachusetts is encouraging people who are concerned about their ballot arriving and being processed in time to go vote in person. The organization has received dozens of reports from voters about ballot concerns since mailed ballot voting began, including from people who have not received ballots.   

“If a voter has received or sent in a mail ballot, they may still go vote in person so long as their mail ballot has not been processed, said Kristina Mensikthe organization’s assistant director. In that case, she said, voters may need to sign an affidavit when they vote in person.  

Mailed ballots can also be delivered to municipal elections offices, but Mensik said the safest bet now is to vote in-person at a polling location.  

Sander Cohan’s mailed ballot never made it to election officials in Boston. He received it while spending time in Otis, and mailed it from the Western Massachusetts town. He said he tried tracking it down using the Galvin’s website, but “to no avail.” He ended up speaking to the city Election Department, which confirmed his ballot wasn’t received and that he could vote in person.   

“I was surprised. My past experience with absentee voting is that its straightforward, said Cohan.  

But the flood of mailed ballots for today’s primary is unlike the absentee ballot volume for any previous election, and election officials have been bracing for the surge. 

The Boston Election Commission said its been experiencing heavy call volume from voters who requested a mailed ballot and are now showing up to vote in person.  

Some poll workers are calling the Election Department to verify that a mailed ballot hasn’t been received before allowing voter to cast a ballot in person. 

At the Lower Mills Library in Dorchester, it took poll workers almost half an hour to verify that Scott Eisen had not cast a ballot after having asked for a mail-in ballot that never arrived. “They’re having insane issues verifying people to vote,” said Eisen on Twitter. He said two people who were waiting in line while he was there grew inpatient and left.   

Galvin’s office said that in that particular location, city election officials had instructed poll workers to call if a voter had previously requested a mail-in ballot, because they wanted to double-check that they had not already returned a ballot to City Hall.  

“This is not required, but it was something the office had chosen to do as an extra check on the ballots. We asked them to discontinue the practice, as it was delaying some voters, and they contacted their poll workers immediately,” said a spokeswoman for Galvin 

For some votersproblems with voting in today’s primary have been particularly disheartening. “Honestly, I’m more excited about the primary than the general election,” said Gonzalez, the Boston voter who is in Washington. “I feel so bad that I couldn’t support the candidates that shared my values the most for my state rep seat and US Senate.”  

On Monday, Galvin said there were complaints about ballots taking a long time to arrivewhich he said may be due to delays with the US Postal Service. Ballots received by local election departments after the polls close at 8 pm will not be counted. 

Other issues with the ballots themselves have arisen. In Brighton, Ben Forsdick received his mail-in ballot but caught a hard-to-see error.  

Ballot with incorrect ward and precincts.

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.

Forsdick, who has voted for 12 years from his precinct, noticed that the ballot incorrectly lista different precinct within Ward 22, and therefore has him voting in the wrong state representative district. “I was concerned because I really want mail in ballots to be effective,” said Forsdick. I know if I returned it by mail, whenever they went to process it, and backed it up, my entire ballot would have been thrown out.” 

Forsdick went to his polling location today and a supervisor did some troubleshooting on an election hotline. He was eventually able to vote in-person, and the incorrect mail-in ballot was voided and confiscated. He said he’s concerned others may have gotten the wrong ballot as well. “It wasn’t easy to spot the mistake,” he said.