Mail-in ballots now central feature of election

It’s now clear that mailed ballots will assume a prominent role in the November presidential election. The only question is whether that role ends up being to helpfully expand access to the franchise to millions of Americans wary of heading to polling places during a pandemic, or to create mass chaos and uncertainty about the election. It could also do some of both.

The Washington Post says at least 77 percent of American voters will be able to cast ballots by mail in November, a seismic shift in how presidential elections are decided. Such an enormous change is raising anxiety levels among election officials responsible for managing the process.

Weeks after two tightly contested June 23 congressional primaries in New York City, officials had yet to declare winners in the race. (One of the two races was finally called yesterday.) Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials traded charges about who was at fault. The US Postal Service came in for criticism over its ability to handle a deluge of mailed ballots — concerns that have only intensified amid reports of a nationwide slowdown in mail delivery. Some voters only received ballots the day before they were due, and officials had trouble determining which ballots were too late to be counted because postage was prepaid and many ballots lacked a postmark date.

“This election is a canary in the coal mine,” one of the congressional candidates said, suggesting it does not bode well for the November election.

The political data website FiveThirtyEight tried to get a handle on how things might go in the fall by looking at all the experience with mailed ballots since the pandemic erupted in March. It looked at the 37 states plus Washington, DC, that have held presidential primaries or statewide elections since March. The first conclusion to draw is that states attempting to get voters to cast ballots by mail were “wildly successful” at getting them to do so. The analysis found that in 25 of the 35 states for which such data are available, a majority of ballots were cast by mail. On the whole, the mailed ballot option seems to boost overall turnout.

While there were problems with mailed ballots not being received by voters and other issues related to remote voting, one of the biggest problems encountered was long lines at polling places, as states reduced the number of in-person locations to vote. Last month, Newton’s city clerk told CommonWealth he was busy recruiting younger poll workers for the fall as many of the city’s regular poll workers were opting out of working this year because they are in older, higher-risk age categories.

Massachusetts has sent all 4.6 million registered voters applications to receive mail-in ballots for the September 1 primary and November 3 general election.

Looming over the whole mailed ballot issue has been President Trump’s incessant railing against the practice. He has continually lobbed the unfounded charge that mail-in ballots will result in massive voter fraud, setting the stage for questioning the election results.

His attacks have befuddled some leaders of the Republican Party, which has developed a better vote-by-mail operation than Democrats. Trump, never hobbled by the need for consistency, suddenly seems to have picked up on this. Yesterday, in a complete 180-degree turn, he declared that Florida — where polls show a tight race and where he’s counting on older voters who may be reluctant to head to polling places — was singularly well-prepared to oversee mail-in-voting, and he encouraged his supporters to cast votes there by mail.

With Trump, of course, what’s good for the goose is often dreadful for the gander, so his  campaign and the Republican National Committee also filed suit late yesterday to block Nevada officials from mailing all voters a ballot.

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg suggests that if Trump is so concerned about the legitimacy of the election, “why not, you know, do something to assure the election is conducted properly?”

“There’s nothing stopping Trump from pushing a massive effort to, say, gear up the US Postal Service to handle an increased volume of mail during the election period,” writes Goldberg. “Instead, the donor he appointed to run the USPS has eliminated overtime for postal workers, virtually ensuring delivery delays. Trump could also use the same emergency powers he’s used to acquire ventilators to buy secure ballot drop boxes for the states.”

Of course, that presumes that Trump is concerned with minimizing chaos, when that’s often seemed the closest thing to a governing principle of his tenure.

MICHAEL JONAS


FROM COMMONWEALTH

New COVID-19 cases bump up again, nudging the seven-day positive test rate up slightly.

State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley is pushing in-person learning this fall, but the ultimate decision will be left to local communities.

At a forum where they were questioned by current and former inmates, Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy backed driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, free phone calls for prisoners, decriminalizing sex work, and many more progressive initiatives. Kennedy said he now opposes life sentences without the possibility of parole and Markey apologized for not doing more to help the family of DJ Henry Jr., who was killed by police in New York state, and for supporting a crime bill in 1994.

The operator of nursing homes in Wareham and Worcester, which are being kicked out of the Medicaid program, says he can refute all of the state’s complaints.

Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok urges Boston University and Northeastern University not to bring students back to campus this fall.

Advocates, relying on US Census polling and research, say one of every three renters across the state is at risk of eviction.

Gov. Charlie Baker signs the breakfast after the bell bill into law.

Opinion: Marty Blatt of Northeastern and David J. Harris of Harvard Law School call for the name of Faneuil Hall to be changed.


FROM AROUND THE WEB             

BEACON HILL

Lawmakers are considering reviving the debate over sports betting this fall, admitting that legalization is unlikely to make it through the conference committee currently considering sports betting as part of an economic development bill. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

About 140,000 people were left without electricity after the high winds of tropical storm Isaias downed trees and power lines. (WBUR)

A pop-up clinic held in Harwich in response to positive cases of COVID-19 among restaurant workers tested 155 individuals for the disease. (Cape Cod Times)

Cape Cod officials question how Gov. Charlie Baker’s new restrictions requiring travelers to quarantine or test negative for COVID-19 will be enforced. (MassLive) As COVID-19 cases rise in Rhode Island, the state’s travelers are no longer exempt from Massachusetts’ traveler restrictions. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts is one of seven states in talks with US manufacturers to buy antigen tests, diagnostic tests that provide faster but less accurate results than current PCR tests. (MassLive)

Dr. Betsy Nabel, the head of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, earned $8.5 million this year from stock in Moderna, the Cambridge company whose experimental COVID-19 vaccine is being tested at the hospital. Nabel also sat on the Moderna board until last week, when she resigned. (Boston Globe)

Cardiac thoracic surgeon Peter Lee, who works at Charlton Memorial Hospital, is delving into his interest in space with experiments such as sending heart tissue to the International Space Station. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

At least 100 people were killed and at least 4,000 injured as a massive explosion rocked Beirut. (Washington Post)

Secretary of State Bill Galvin and others in the state are unhappy with President Trump’s decision to cut short the census count. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ELECTIONS

Fourth Congressional District candidate Jake Auchincloss, a Newton city councilor, says he was one of the first Democrats to call for President Trump’s impeachment, but he voted against an advisory resolution the City Council passed voicing support for impeachment. (Boston Globe)

The Justice Democrats political action committee appears to be revving up advertising support for Holyoke mayor Alex Morse, who is challenging US Rep. Richard Neal. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)

Real estate honcho Peter Palandjian is organizing local business leaders to support a get-out-the-vote effort this fall to boost turnout. (Boston Globe)

Young people are being sought out to work at the polls this November, since the seniors who typically do the job are worried about coronavirus spread. (NPR)

Kanye West is getting help landing a spot on the presidential ballot from people who have been Republican operatives, moves that appear designed to aid President Trump by siphoning black votes away from Joe Biden. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Encore Boston Harbor finished the second quarter $53.8 million in the red, due to the coronavirus-related closure. (MassLive)

While critics say marijuana legalization has not boosted minority entrepreneurs as backers had claimed it would, it has yielded millions of dollars in payments to police officers working paid “details” controlling traffic at pot shops. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Somerville, whose mayor, Joe Curtatone, has been outspoken in arguing the state is reopening too quickly, became the first school district in the state to announce it would begin the fall semester with fully remote learning. (Boston Herald)

The Quincy affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association rejected the state union’s call for local unions to voice support for a remote-learning-only start to the school year and accused the MTA of setting the stage for a strike without clear criteria for such an action. (Boston Globe)

A group of Worcester educators are calling on the president of their teacher’s union to retract his statement that a majority of educators support the school resource officer program. (Telegram & Gazette)

IMMIGRATION

The number of ICE detainees at the Bristol County Jail is way down. (Standard-Times) 

TRANSPORTATION

Business groups west of Boston join environmental and transportation advocates in raising concerns about the reconstruction of the Allston I-90 interchange and the impact it could have on commuters. (MetroWest Daily News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Trial Court releases a plan for gradually resuming jury trials, but some raise concerns about the plan’s safety. (The Salem News)

A man who spent 36 years in prison for a Braintree murder is suing the town and former police officers, saying they ignored evidence which would have cleared him of the crime. (Patriot Ledger)

A man arrested at Worcester Beer Garden for assaulting a police officer sues the police after a video contradicts what the officer wrote on his arrest report. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

A journalism commission amendment, which would establish a body of legislators, journalists, and academics to study the state of the news industry, is facing some hurdles in the Legislature. (DigBoston)