Will the Legislature let pandemic mail-in and early voting reforms expire?

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A voter places an election ballot in a ballot drop-off box in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A voter places an election ballot in a ballot drop-off box in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In the depths of the pandemic, the Massachusetts legislature enacted a series of reforms to help make it easier — and safer — for people to vote.

This included no-excuse mail-in voting and expanded early voting hours and locations.

Many municipalities benefited from these reforms, but still, they're set to expire Wednesday.

There was talk of extending them while the House and Senate hashed out a more permanent solution. But with the legislature not in formal session, it appears highly unlikely they will act to do so in time.

And with a half dozen cities and towns set to hold local elections in the next few months, Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin says he fears many voters planning to vote by mail will be caught off-guard.

"Many people who may be concerned about going out to vote in person, legitimately or not, maybe they have issues they're personally concerned about. They will not have an opportunity to vote by mail," he told WBUR's Radio Boston Tuesday.

Highlights from the full interview appear below, and have been edited for clarity:

On his frustration with the legislature's lack of action on mail-in and early voting extensions:

"Everyone says they're for it. And we've had tremendous success with this in Massachusetts. Not just with the three elections we held in 2020: the presidential election, the presidential primary and our regular state primary — we had record turnouts in all three of them helped by that. But we've also seen it used very effectively at local municipal elections in 2020 and throughout this year in 2021, including today, where we have a special election for the state Senate going on and a number of communities of Boston and north of Boston, which all have used it effectively. It's been used by Democrats and Republicans. So if everyone's for it and it's worked very well, why is it ending? That's my problem."

On the importance of voting rights:

"What was particularly galling to me is, you know, we see what's going on nationally and around the country, the obvious and relentless effort to restrict the rights of voters for partisan reasons. We should be leading in the opposite direction, not quibbling over, 'Well, I sent it here, and they sent it over to us, and we sent back to them.' "

On what should happen next:

"I think here we just have an inability to have an adult conversation about something that's very important. And I think it's the issue of priority. I think voters need to tell their legislators straight up: this is a priority. This is about the right to vote. And we shouldn't be making it— even if it is a legitimate, well-intentioned disagreement between people, which will give them the benefit doubt it is — it is no excuse for not having an option to voters for these important offices and significant offices at the local level."

Editor's note: WBUR reached out to both chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws for comment, but neither responded.

This article was originally published on December 14, 2021.

This segment aired on December 14, 2021.

Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.


Headshot of Walter Wuthmann

Walter Wuthmann State Politics Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a state politics reporter for WBUR.



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