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More than 1.6 million people have requested mail-in ballots. Mass. is ‘hopeful’ they’ll arrive this week

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin held a media availability, in the Senate Reading Room, to discuss mail-in voting and an early-voting period.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin held a media availability, in the Senate Reading Room, to discuss mail-in voting and an early-voting period.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

With less than a month before Election Day, Secretary of State William F. Galvin said he’s “hopeful” that many, if not all, of the more than 1.6 million voters who have already requested a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 election will receive one this week.

Speaking Monday at a State House news conference, Galvin said 200,000 ballots have already gone out to voters, and that the state’s hundreds of local clerks and election officials, who are responsible for distributing them, should all receive the rest of their ballots from the state by the end of the day.

It’s the start of what Galvin said is a “very important” week for the state’s election system as it faces unprecedented strain between the escalating coronavirus pandemic, an expected record number of votes, and assaults on the system’s very integrity from, of all places, the president of the United States of America.

“The unsettling [COVID-19] numbers of the last few days have truly raised the issue once again for many voters about the safety of any activity,” said Galvin, a Brighton Democrat. “No voter should have to compromise their safety to participate in this election and I don’t believe that anybody will.”

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He added adding that he expects turnout for November to top the nearly 3.4 million who voted in 2016 — just as that election beat the previous record set in 2012.

“Do you think things are any more boring now than they were in 2016?” Galvin told reporters.

Voters have a variety of options under the state’s expanded voting law, including casting a ballot by mail, as more than 800,000 did in the state’s September primary, or during the in-person early voting period, which starts Saturday, Oct. 17 and runs through Oct. 30. (More than 1 million people did so before the 2016 election.)

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Every municipality is also expected to offer a secure drop box, where voters can submit absentee ballots, and voters can also submit them at early voting locations, Galvin said.

But between warnings that the Postal Service may not deliver ballots on time and the state’s ever-changing public health landscape, voters are being told to submit their ballots as soon as they’ve made up their minds. They can also track them online, though local election officials are expected to notify voters who submit their ballots ahead of time if there are any problems that would otherwise disqualify them, such as forgetting to sign the envelope.

Voters, of course, have to receive them first. By Friday, the “vast majority” of clerks had reported not receiving ballots from Galvin’s office, said Andy Dowd, Northborough’s town clerk and the legislative chair of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, citing discussions on the group’s social media and listserv channels.

And by midday Monday, Dowd said he’d received some ballots but was still awaiting ballot “kits” that include envelopes, instructions, and the ballots themselves, which help shave the time clerks would otherwise spend sorting and constructing the ballot packages voters receive.

“We’re getting many, many calls [from voters] wondering when the ballots are going to arrive. I can understand the frustration,” Dowd said, noting that those who requested only a general election mail-in ballot may have done so as early as July.

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In Northborough alone, 5,000 of the town’s 11,500 registered voters have requested them. “We’re prepared to get them out,” he said.

Galvin said his office prioritized sending ballots to communities with the most ballot requests first, but said he expects hundreds of thousands of ballots should arrive in voters' mailboxes starting this week.

“I’m hopeful all this week,” he said. “I’m urging people to get it in as rapidly as possible.”

Galvin said he personally intends to vote in person on Election Day itself, a route he expects anywhere from one-third to half of all voters to take with the presidential race, a US Senate seat, every congressional district, and two hotly debated questions on the ballot.

Voters legally can apply for a mail-in ballot as late as Oct. 28, but Galvin is urging those who want to mail in their vote to request one by Oct. 20, including through an online portal. Residents can also register to vote up to 10 days before the election, or Oct. 24.

The state’s new voting law has transformed election processes for this fall, most notably by allowing anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so without an excuse. Any ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by a local election official by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 will be counted.

But voter advocates have warned more people could possibly be disenfranchised amid the new changes. Massachusetts election officials rejected nearly 18,000 ballots from last month’s state primary, roughly half because they arrived too late — more than tripling the number discarded during the 2018 and 2016 general elections.

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The new law also loosened the rules around, of all things, death. Massachusetts voters who legally submit an absentee ballot and then die before Election Day will still have their votes counted.

The change applies only to the 2020 elections, and is already on the books in other states. But it marks a shift in Massachusetts' voting rules, which previously required that all voters, even if they cast their ballots early or by mail, still be alive when polls open on Election Day for their ballot to count.

Galvin emphasized that he doesn’t expect that to include a “significant” number of ballots.

“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.


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