Policy and Communications Manager at MassVOTE, a non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to voting rights and social justice; Franklin resident
Massachusetts adopted voting by mail as an option in the 2020 elections due to concerns about the safety of voting in person during a pandemic. Our experience with mail-in balloting this year best explains why it is time to make the system a permanent feature of all our elections.
In the Sept. 1 state primary, 48 percent of those voting did so by mail. In the Nov. 3 state election, 42 percent of those that cast ballots did so by mail. For both elections, voting by mail proved the most popular voting method among those casting ballots.
Both elections also saw record-breaking overall turnout. In the primary, 37 percent of registered voters turned out, the highest rate for a state primary in 30 years. For the general election, 76 percent of voters cast ballots: the highest rate for a state election in 28 years.
It is clear that when given the chance, voters embrace voting by mail in massive numbers. Voter turnout increases when the ability to vote is made as easy and accessible as possible.
Yet if our own experience with voting by mail does not convince you it should be made permanent, perhaps the policy’s success across the country will.
Voting by mail is incredibly safe and secure. A number of states, such as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, had mail-in balloting even before this year’s elections. There, procedures like signature verification systems, official drop-off boxes, and ballot tracking software help ensure electoral integrity.
Voting by mail is also cost-effective. Colorado, which mails ballots to all registered voters for each election, saw its election-related costs decrease by 40 percent after it implemented that and other ballot reforms in 2013. Why? Even though rental costs increased, printing, postage, and labor costs all decreased. The state, for instance, deployed 16,000 poll workers in 2008. After implementing the changes, it needed less than 4,000,cq a significant source of savings.
Voting by mail is secure, cost-effective, and proven to increase voter turnout. As difficult as 2020 was, our experience with mail-in balloting this year demonstrated that the system can thrive in Massachusetts. Now we must seize the moment and make it permanent.
Monica Medeiros Solano
Member of the Melrose Republican City Committee; former longtime Melrose City Councilor, former president of the Massachusetts Municipal Councillors’ Association
The 2020 election was unique. The unparalleled fervor of voters was met by the unprecedented challenge of operating an election safely during a global pandemic. Although mail-in voting helped address 2020′s challenges in Massachusetts, it was not without its deficiencies. In light of the very real concerns surrounding mail-in voting, we should weigh carefully whether to use it on a case-by-case basis each election, not institute it permanently.
Mail-in voting can unintentionally disenfranchise voters. The voices of nearly 18,000 voters were never heard in the September primary for reasons including that they were completed incorrectly or simply arrived too late.
Voting early, by mail or otherwise, robs the voter of the chance to react to new information. This early voting, which could be nearly a month before the actual “Election Day,” strongly favors incumbents who have higher name recognition and larger campaign war chests. Challengers are left struggling to reach voters before they cast their ballots.
To protect voters from undue influence while they cast their ballots, electioneering is prohibited within 150 feet of an in-person polling location. But with mail-in voting, no such protection exists and voter secrecy is at risk. COVID-19 effectively kept campaign workers at a distance in 2020, but in a post-COVID world, what is to stop campaign volunteers from illegally pressuring voters under the guise of offering “assistance?” Will voters feel able to freely voice their choices with a candidate or campaign worker looking over their shoulder or pressuring them on the phone while they cast their ballot? Moreover, the intense scrutiny on the process in the 2020 year might not exist when things return to “normal.”
We must acknowledge the potential for fraud. Massachusetts has had first-hand experience with election fraud related to absentee ballots, which are more restrictive.
The best way to ensure the potential costs to our democracy that come with mail-in-voting are not ignored, is to require an open public debate with a full vote of the Legislature each time we consider it for an election.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.