With less than a month until the election, Secretary of State William Galvin on Monday urged voters to make a plan and not wait if they anticipate casting their ballot by mail to ensure that their vote gets counted.
Galvin said that more than 1.6 million registered voters have already requested mail-in ballots, and he predicted that number could grow as fear of a fall surge of coronavirus infections grows and the state's daily COVID-19 case count has produced "unsettling numbers" in recent days.
Mail-in ballots are due to arrive to all cities and towns by Monday, and Galvin said it's his goal to see all of those ballots mailed and received by voters who have requested them by the end of the week.
"No voter should have to compromise their safety to participate in this election, and I don't believe anyone will," Galvin said at a State House press conference where he kicked off what he called a "very important week" for the state's election system.
The period for in-person early voting also begins on Oct. 17 and gives voters an option to vote through Oct. 30 surrounded by fewer people, Galvin said.
As the state's chief elections officer, Galvin said he has been working closely with local clerks to ensure that the elections run smoothly and that voters are aware of all their options to participate, including voting by mail, early in person, or in person on election day.
Those efforts, the secretary said, have included encouraging local officials to find polling locations large enough to accommodate a high volume of foot traffic to avoid asking voters to wait in long, congested lines to cast their ballot on election day. Galvin projects more than one million people will turn up at local polling locations on Nov. 3.
The secretary is also working with communities to locate secure drop boxes for mail-in ballots in every community at early voting locations and elsewhere.
"Hopefully everything comes to fruition," said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager at MassVOTE.
More than 200,000 ballots have already been mailed out to voters, Galvin said, and the secretary's office prioritized getting ballots out to the 30 communities with the largest volume of mail-in ballot requests, topped by the town of Lexington.
"We are very anxious that voters not only receive their ballots early but that they also return them early," Galvin said. "We are very cognizant of the issues relating to the Postal Service and other sorts of delivery."
Galvin is projecting a record turnout in this year's election that will eclipse the 3,375,801 ballots cast in 2016, just like 2016 topped the 2012 election, and the 2012 turnout beat 2008.
"Do you think things are more boring now that they were in '16? I don't," Galvin said.
Unlike during the primary, ballots that are mailed in must be postmarked by election day, but can arrive as late as Friday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. and still be counted.
"I think it's important for voters to know that, but I also think it's important that they vote as soon as possible if they can. If they are fully decided for whom they want to vote and their decisions on the questions, there is no reason to delay," Galvin said.
The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 28, but Galvin said he would recommend doing so no later than Oct. 20 to provide enough time for that ballot to reach the voter and be returned by Nov. 6. Voters can also track their ballots at www.TrackMyBallotMA.com to monitor their status.
The mail-in and early voting options enable a significant amount of the vote to be cast earlier than in past cycles, but also mean that scores of votes are cast before the final weeks and days of the campaign, a time when candidates are still scrambling to sway voters in person or through ads, debates and media appearances.
Psilakis said clerks are worried about their ability to process the expected volume of mail-in ballots, but are working now to bring on enough election workers. "The sooner we get this vote-by-mail system going the better the election is going to run," he said.
MassVOTE is also currently expecting election day to run "pretty smooth," save for some long lines that could occur because of social distancing. "I would be pretty surprised if there were any chaotic situations," Psilakis said.
In the primary elections, about 17,800 ballots were rejected and not counted, including about 8,400 that were received too late in the mail to qualify. Some of those voters chose to vote in person when they realized their ballot might not arrive in time, a state official said, while other rejected ballots were either lost or not received by a voter before a second ballot was mailed.
Another reason a mail-in ballot could be rejected is if a voter fails to sign the outside envelope, but Galvin said if that ballot is received early enough a clerk can notify the voter and have the mistake corrected.
Galvin said that even with the three-day cushion for ballots to arrive after election day, it's possible that ballots will arrive by mail too late to count, which is why he's encouraging voters act early if they plan to vote by mail. The extended window could also lead to some races being too close to call on election night.
"Time is our friend," Galvin said.
No ballots will be counted until election day when Galvin said the expectation is that clerks will tally all in-person and received mail-in ballots once the polls close at 8 p.m.
He also said he didn't expect the pandemic-era rule allowing the ballots of people who die between casting their early vote and the election to be counted to sway any elections.
Galvin said the Legislature explicitly allowed for those ballots to be counted this year because of the desire to expand the voting window during the pandemic, but said it's no different than someone voting in person at 8 a.m. and dying of a heart attack two hours later.
"This has been a record year for deaths because of COVID. But it's certainly not going to affect the outcome of the election," he said.
This article was originally published on October 05, 2020.