Mail-in voting may be here to stay

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts allowed no-excuse mail-in voting for the first time this year as well as expanded early voting – and millions of voters took advantage.

By Saturday evening, 2.28 million voters had cast their ballots, either by mail or in person – a number equivalent to more than two-thirds of all ballots cast in the 2016 election.

For Pam Wilmot, vice president of state operations for Common Cause, said that is all the proof needed to retain no-excuse mail-in voting going forward. “This process works, and we should absolutely make it permanent,” Wilmot said.

Wilmot and state Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws, joined The Codcast to talk about the changes to voting made in this year’s elections and the implications for future elections.

Finegold said while he, too, supports extending mail-in voting to future elections, some changes may be needed. He said the process needs to be streamlined to help town clerks handle the work, and lawmakers need to make sure voters outside of the wealthier, whiter communities participate.

Finegold said early voting has primarily been concentrated in wealthier communities – in his district, Andover had more votes cast in the state primary than Lawrence, even though Lawrence, a much poorer community, has twice the population. “It’s a great thing for people in the higher socioeconomic communities to participate the way they have…but we’ve got to do some work to make sure that people understand vote-by-mail,” Finegold said.

Finegold suggested that if mail-in voting continues, more education may be needed to help voters in communities of color and poorer communities cast their ballots by mail and trust that it is a safe way to vote. The state also needs to maintain more accurate voter rolls.

Wilmot said education may not be enough to address the disparities. “It is much harder when you’re in a multi-family building to get your mail reliably,” Wilmot said. “That’s why we have to preserve in-person voting options.… We are all for expanding options for voters and that includes in-person options as well as vote by mail options. It’s true that more education does help, but it only gets you so far.”

President Trump has raised concerns about the security of voting by mail — though Wilmot pointed out that Trump himself has voted by mail numerous times. Before the election, a Boston ballot dropbox was set on fire, allegedly by an emotionally disturbed homeless man, and 35 ballots were damaged.

Both Wilmot and Finegold said voting by mail is secure. Finegold stressed the two-step process, which requires someone to apply for a ballot, then sign the ballot envelope. He called the fire an “anomaly.”

Wilmot said smart codes on ballots and a requirement for signature matching ensure the person casting a ballot is the person who requested it. Wilmot said more expensive drop boxes are fireproof, but this election, municipalities had to get boxes quickly so many “don’t have all the bells and whistles.”

While there have been glitches – like people getting sent the wrong ballot — Wilmot said in the future, “I think we’ll get better at this.”

Wimot’s organization had advocated for mailing every registered voter a ballot. Wilmot says now that the current system was “probably the appropriate step to take” given how quickly mail-in voting had to scale up.

Both Wilmot and Finegold voiced support for allowing same-day voter registration.

“What we’ve done with vote-by-mail is we’ve gotten more people to participate, and our goal should always be to have even more people participate,” Finegold said. “Because when more people participate, democracy wins, and whether you’re Democrat or Republican, the higher participation, the better.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Weymouth settles its fight over a natural gas compressor plant and collects $10 million from the plant owner.

Attorneys for ill and civilly committed prisoners are seeking an emergency court order requiring the head of the state’s prison system to implement a home confinement program amid growing COVID-19 numbers.

Opinion: Mike Vartabedian of the MBTA’s machinists union and Olivia Nichols of GreenRoots in Chelsea say T budget and service cuts are unwise….We need to close the digital divide in Boston, say city councilors Julia Mejia and Ed Flynn and Daniel Noyes and Theodora Hanna of Tech Goes Home….Justice demands that we strengthen eviction protections, say Melanie Gleason, Deborah Ramirez, Leslie Aldrich, and Joan Quinlan….Ellana Stinson, president of the New England Medical Association, explains how physicians of color navigate bias in the practice of medicine….This election highlights our collective responsibility, says Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts….Dan French and Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools say the current vocational school admission guidelines are racially unjust….Marty Meehan, the president of UMass, says voter expression is cause for optimism….Colette Phillips on starting a corporate anti-racism movement….Craig S. Altemose of the Better Future Project explains how 44 Massachusetts communities can put pressure on their lawmakers to address climate change and democracy.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In some Gateway Cities, the crime rate is down significantly. (State House News)

Several city councilors in Everett, one of the Massachusetts communities hit hardest by coronavirus, say Gerly Adrien, the first black woman to serve on the council, who has taken part in council meetings by Zoom because of concern for a vulnerable family member, should resign if she won’t attend council meetings in person. (Boston Globe)

Between the snow and COVID-19, Salem attracts far fewer visitors than normal for Halloween. (The Salem News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

There continue to be troubling signs of a coronavirus resurgence in the state. (Boston Globe)

An attorney for residents at the Farren Care Center nursing home is raising concerns with state officials about the home’s closure plan and its impact on vulnerable residents. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Dr. Scott Atlas, the White House coronavirus advisor who has largely supplanted Dr. Anthony Fauci, apologized for having conducted an interview with the television network RT, saying he had been unaware it was a “registered foreign agent” financed by the Russian government. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

On the eve of the election, President Trump needs a much larger polling error than what occurred in 2016 to pull out a victory, writes The Upshot’s Nate Cohn. (New York Times)

Hundreds of Trump supporters rally in West Springfield on Saturday. (MassLive) Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden make 11th hour election appeals across swing states. (NPR)

The radio frequency broadcasting sports talk radio WEEI in Warren is being repeatedly and illegally interrupted by pro-Trump messages. (Telegram & Gazette)

Historians compare the 2020 election to the presidential elections that occurred amid major national upheaval in 1920 and 1968. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Enterprise has an explainer on how people with disabilities can vote.

In the only debate in the Fourth Congressional District race, Republican Julie Hall said she would not get a coronavirus vaccine, while Democrat Jake Auchincloss — whose father is a top deputy to Dr. Anthony Fauci — said he would. (Boston Herald)

“Blue Lives Matter” has become the new rallying cry of the right. (Boston Globe)

Despite a flood of early voting, Merrimack Valley clerks predict high turnout at the polls on Election Day. (Eagle-Tribune)

Medford had major problems running its primary election, and learned from those mistakes for the general election. Voters generally ran into numerous glitches using vote-by-mail in the state primary. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Bit Bar, an arcade that sued the state over Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan, will not be denied coronavirus relief money due to its pending lawsuit. (The Salem News)

Tenants at a Mattapan apartment complex reached a novel agreement with their landlord that calls for modest rent increases over a five-year period. (Boston Globe)

Employees wonder whether working from home will become the norm even post-pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette) Companies say virtual events will likely continue. (MassLive)

Ski areas are worried about what the upcoming season will look like due to the pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette)

Friendly’s, the Massachusetts-based restaurant chain, filed for bankruptcy and will sell all its assets to Connecticut restaurant group Amici Partners Group. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Wellesley and a handful of other communities are exploring “pool testing” of students for COVID-19. (MetroWest Daily News)

Nauset school district is entering into a renewable energy agreement, which focuses on solar power. (Cape Cod Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

The interactive Samuel Slater Museum in Webster is nearing completion. Slater, a British immigrant, built textile mills in Webster that led to the town’s development. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A coalition of unionized natural gas workers is calling on lawmakers to pass gas pipeline safety proposals that have been languishing in legislative committees. (Eagle-Tribune)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Training materials used for cadets in the Kentucky State Police until 2013 quoted Adolf Hitler and Confederate general Robert E. Lee and encouraged trainees to pursue violence at all costs. (Washington Post)

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel will not be retried in a 1975 murder, for which he was freed from prison in 2013 after a Connecticut court overturned his conviction. (Associated Press)

MEDIA

Renee Graham, a columnist and associate editor at the Boston Globe, tweets side-by-side pictures of a caravan of Trump supporters and a convoy of ISIS militants and says: “See the difference? Me neither.”

Young Fall River voters talk about how they look beyond traditional American media to inform their voting decisions. (Herald News)