Renewing his calls for automatic mail-in voting in time for the state primary in September, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III was joined by Attorney General Maura Healey and other advocates and local leaders Tuesday to pressure the Democrat-led state Legislature to mandate that all registered voters be mailed a ballot this fall as the coronavirus pandemic throws new challenges on in-person voting.
Kennedy, who will appear on the Democratic primary ballot Sept. 1 as he mounts a challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey, said none of the proposals emerging on Beacon Hill do enough to prevent voters from having to choose between their health and their right to vote this fall.
“Any existing proposal that is before the Legislature does not go nearly far enough in order to safeguard the sanctity of enfranchisement here in Massachusetts,” he said during the virtual news conference.
Current legislation being considered on Beacon Hill would allow any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Before the pandemic, voters generally were required to have a reason for voting absentee. Another proposal would automatically mail ballots to voters who are enrolled in a political party but would require unenrolled voters to request a ballot. Kennedy’s proposal goes further, mandating that election officials automatically mail a ballot to all registered voters, regardless of party, with prepaid postage.
In Chelsea, which has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts, City Council President Roy Avellaneda raised the prospect of crowded polling locations at schools and firehouses in the fall if nothing is done.
“Can anyone please tell me if that’s safe? To actually start bringing many people to those sites in this time?” he asked.
He said the situation could be exacerbated by a shortage of poll workers, who are often retirees, a group at high risk of suffering serious complications from the coronavirus.
Healey, the state’s top law enforcement official, echoed those sentiments, casting the issue as one of equity and fairness.
“I look at vote-by-mail as a safe, accessible, easy way to do what is right,” she said.
Secretary of the State William F. Galvin has emerged as a skeptic of universal mail-in voting, telling the Globe last week that there were logistical concerns for unenrolled voters, who make up more than half of the Massachusetts electorate. He said he is drafting his own proposal and would release it in May.
“We can’t just mail ballots out to people. You’re going to have to request the ballot and tell us which [primary] you want to vote in,” he said.
Kennedy dismissed those concerns, suggesting unenrolled voters could be mailed two ballots, one Democratic and one Republican, with clear instructions to return only one.
“I also have great faith in the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and our elected officials in charge of administering elections can help ensure that we can actually do this in a feasible way. Other states do it,” he said. “To do otherwise means that you are leaving a significant portion of the electorate here in Massachusetts with an additional hurdle that others do not have. And that creates a two-tiered system.”
Galvin, in an e-mailed comment to the Globe on Tuesday, warned of “administrative chaos” over Kennedy’s plan.
“This proposal, as presented, fails to answer many key questions, such as how to prevent the administrative chaos that would be caused by mailing multiple unsolicited ballots to millions of voters,” he said.