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More than 1 million Mass. voters have requested mail-in primary ballots

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who oversees elections in Massachusetts, says polling places will be safe, despite the pandemic, for those who choose to vote in person.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who oversees elections in Massachusetts, says polling places will be safe, despite the pandemic, for those who choose to vote in person.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

More than 1 million Massachusetts voters have requested to vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary election, creating a potentially unprecedented deluge at a time when state and federal officials fear delays at the Postal Service could threaten the integrity of elections.

The office of Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Tuesday that 162,000 voters had submitted ballots for next month’s election, and that officials had mailed out 961,000 ballots to the 1 million-plus — of the state’s 4.6 million registered voters — who had asked for them.

The state has also received more than 1 million vote-by-mail applications for the Nov. 3. general election, Galvin said at a State House news briefing.

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The requests, made under a new law expanding voting options amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, could fuel a higher turnout in next month’s primary than in recent years, helped in part by the high-profile Senate primary race between Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Galvin said.

Of the ballots already mailed to voters, 820,170 of them went to Democratic primary voters. Galvin cautioned, however, that some of those who requested both primary and general election ballots may ultimately choose to vote only in November, making it difficult to gauge how many will actually submit a ballot for the primary.

State primaries in Massachusetts haven’t drawn more than 1 million voters since 2006 or topped 30 percent turnout since 1992, state data show. Roughly 700,000 voters cast ballots in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor.

But the fast-approaching elections have been embroiled in new fears of voter disenfranchisement, on two fronts: President Trump’s repeated assaults on the expansion of voting by mail, which he claims, without evidence, will create significant fraud; and a series of moves under the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a top GOP donor, to eliminate overtime and decommission mail-sorting machines — changes that in some cases have created backlogs in mail service.

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Later Tuesday, DeJoy said he would suspend the cost-cutting moves to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

That came after more than a dozen states, including Massachusetts, said they would sue to challenge the changes, including in Pennsylvania, where the lawsuit would both reverse the agency’s actions and “guarantee safeguards” for election mail, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.

“The Postal Service has been able to provide ballot delivery even during wars. I don’t understand why this would be such a problem,” Galvin said Tuesday outside the State House. “This is a national issue. It needs to be addressed.”

The Postal Service told officials in Massachusetts and 45 other states last month that ballots cast by mail for the November election could arrive late, even if sent before their state-imposed deadline.

The warnings and changes set off a scramble among Democrats at both the state and federal levels. A group of federal lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, on Monday implored the agency’s leaders to reverse the changes made under DeJoy, who they said “appears to be engaged in a partisan effort with the support of President Trump to delay and degrade mail service and undermine the mission of the United States Postal Service.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back into session and has asked representatives to appear at a post office in their district on Tuesday for a “day of action.”

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Trump, trailing in the polls behind the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has made repeated attacks on voting by mail, going as far as to suggest last month that the election should be delayed until people can vote “properly.”

In Massachusetts, voters can apply for a mail-in ballot by Aug. 26 for the primary election, and by Oct. 28 for the Nov. 3 general election.

Galvin has urged voters to consider taking advantage of the state’s early in-person voting period, which begins Saturday and runs until Aug. 28 for the primary. He stressed that voters should feel comfortable voting at polling places, be it next week or on primary day.

“Voting in person will be safe. We are going to great lengths to be sure of that,” Galvin said, adding that some municipalities have moved polling locations out of the tight quarters they’ve traditionally used. Polling stations will have plexiglass dividers and be stocked with hand sanitizer, and Galvin suggested that voting in person would be safer than going to the supermarket.

“We feel that there is going to be an opportunity for everybody to participate in this election,” Galvin said.

Those who have requested mail-in ballots still have the option of voting in person, as long as they don’t first mail them in, Galvin said.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.