Early Voting Expansion Proposed To Include Massachusetts Primary

Jan 10, 2018

Credit WAMC

    The top election official in Massachusetts has scheduled the state’s 2018 primary for September 4th — the day after Labor Day.  Secretary of State William Galvin is also proposing legislation to allow five days of early voting for the primaries.

    The date of the primary had to be moved up to avoid conflicts with Jewish holidays that fall this year on the second and third Tuesdays in September.  A primary later in the month might not allow for any potential recounts to be completed in time to meet a federally-established deadline to mail general election ballots to military personnel stationed overseas, according to Galvin’s office.

     But Gladys Oyola, the election commissioner for the City of Springfield, said she’s concerned that a primary on the day after Labor Day will depress turnout.

    " People are in the habit of voting later in the month of September," said Oyola.

     Before setting the date for the primary, Galvin held a two-week public comment period.

     The date chosen for the primary will create some difficulties for local election officials who will have to set up polling locations either before or immediately after the long holiday weekend.

    " Yes our staff will be inconvenienced because people take vacation then. Will it require us to pay overtime? That is yet to be seen," said Oyola.

      Absentee ballots that are usually due by noon on the day before an election will now have to be turned in on Friday.

     " My main concern is informing the voters of the change ( in date) and making sure anyone who wants to participate in the election is informed of the change," said Oyola.

     In a statement announcing the date for the primary, Galvin said he had consulted with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and acting Senate President Harriette Chandler about the legislature paying for cities and towns to hold five days of voting ahead of the Sept. 4 primary.

    State law requires an 11-day early voting period before the November election. Oyola said she supports the proposed expansion of early voting to include the primaries.

   "It will allow access for voters who may not be able to make it to the polls on September 4th and anything that drives voter turnout in my book is a positive thing," said Oyola. " We will just have to make sure we budget accordingly."

    Galvin’s request to expand early voting came the day after State Auditor Suzanne Bump issued a report that said the state owes cities and towns more than $1 million to cover costs of early voting in 2016.

    Bump determined last February that the state’s early voting law imposed an unfunded mandate on municipalities.

    The 2016 general election was the first time Massachusetts held early voting.  More than a million people, or almost a quarter of the state’s registered voters, cast ballots during the early voting period in 2016.