Mail-in voting debate heats up with help from Trump

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?”

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.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

Budget watchdogs say the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt by local and state government for years. (Boston Herald)

Gov. Charlie Baker said the “vast majority” of unemployment claims are legitimate after the state temporarily froze payments to 150,000 people in the wake of a national unemployment benefits scam. (Boston Herald)

A member of the Governor’s Council says Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito sent “mixed messages” to the public by attending a graduation party last weekend at her brother’s house. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The rescheduled-for-September Boston Marathon is canceled, another indication the battle against the coronavirus is going to go on for a long time. (State House News)

The Enterprise looks at how the Brockton housing market is faring amid high unemployment.

Worcester plans to drop the criminal complaint the city filed against a Baptist church that violated state guidelines on worship gatherings. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Nursing home residents and employees facea new way of life after being hard hit by COVID-19. (Patriot Ledger)

Some 64 patients died of COVID-19 at Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center in Lawrence, one of the highest numbers of fatalities statewide. (Eagle Tribune)

Barnstable County officials say the daily count of new coronavirus cases is now in the single digits. (MassLive)  In Berkshire County, there were no new cases or deaths. (Berkshire Eagle)

Relatives of coronavirus victims at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and employees there are skeptical of the storyline offered through emails by suspended superintendent Bennett Walsh. (Boston Globe)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has drastically reduced its use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients after studies suggest it’s linked to serious and sometimes fatal side effects. (Washington Post)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Minneapolis was rocked by continued unrest, including the torching of a police station, following the killing of George Floyd, a black man in police custody, while a tweet by President Trump warning that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” was flagged by Twitter for “glorifying violence.” (Washington Post) The Justice Department promises to make its investigation into Floyd’s death a “top priority.” (NPR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Encore Boston Harbor said it will stop paying its 850 part-time workers and is furloughing more than 10 percent of full-time employees at the Everett casino. (Boston Globe)

The Provincetown Select Board and Board of Health streamlined the process for allowing businesses to expand onto outdoor spaces for socially distant seating, while banning cruise ships and whale-watch excursions. (Cape Cod Times)

Cape Cod business leaders say they are getting ready for summer visitors. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

In Fall River, B.M.C. Durfee High School seniors have voted to delay graduation in order to get a more conventional ceremony. (Herald News)

Day care centers that have been open on an emergency basis offer a glimpse of what their future may look like. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Barrington Stage in Pittsfield removes rows of seats to prepare for an August opening with social distancing. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross again takes aim at judges who are releasing inmates to reduce COVID-19 spread inside prisons. “If you feel so comfortable releasing them, let them stay at your house,” Gross said, without providing proof of offenses being committed by recently released prisoners. (WCVB)

MEDIA

CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested (and later released) while broadcasting live from the streets of Minneapolis. (New York Times)

Northeastern media professor Dan Kennedy thinks Twitter doesn’t have much of a financial incentive to cave into President Trump’s threats over the platform’s decision to fact-check and label his tweets as false. (Media Nation)