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Boston City Council to mull moving Sept. 21 preliminary election up a week

People waited in-line to hand in their ballots after voting at a YMCA in Chinatown during the Massachusetts state primary last September.
People waited in-line to hand in their ballots after voting at a YMCA in Chinatown during the Massachusetts state primary last September.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

The Boston City Council on Tuesday is slated to discuss moving the preliminary municipal election up a week, from Sept. 21 to Sept. 14, which would give officials more time to distribute vote-by-mail ballots for the general contest in November.

Martin J. Walsh, in one of his final acts as mayor before he became the nation’s labor secretary last month, proposed the move, saying “the original date would create a challenge for the printing and distribution of vote-by-mail ballots.”

The change has the backing of the state’s top election official, Secretary of State William Galvin, who said it would give the city more time to distribute and receive early votes for the general.

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In addition, campaigns for open seats tend to shift after the preliminary election narrows the field to the top two finishers, and giving them more time to define their candidacies is prudent, he said.

“From a public policy point of view it makes a lot of sense,” he said.

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2.

City Councilor Matt O’Malley said he supports the change because it gives the city longer to ready the ballot for early voting.

“We need to do everything we can to make it easier to vote and participate, and I think the best way to do that is vote by mail and other early-voting options,” he said.

But City Councilor Kenzie Bok said that “for most of the voting public, there will be the most direct contact with candidates and exposure to the local races in the final days leading up to the September preliminary.” For that reason, she is wary of moving the election back and losing a week of post-Labor Day campaign time.

“On the other hand, we definitely want the Elections Department to be able to be successful at maximizing voter access, including through mail-in voting, so I look forward to hearing their case for why the change may be necessary,” Bok said in a statement.

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There is no City Council meeting this week, and nomination papers are scheduled to be available to municipal candidates on April 27. They are due on May 18, a tight window to collect signatures during the pandemic, Galvin said.

This year’s mayor’s race is crowded, with six major candidates vying for a four-year term.

They are City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu; the city’s former economic development chief, John Barros; Acting Mayor Kim Janey; and state Representative Jon Santiago.

Earlier this year, there was much discussion about eliminating the special election mandated by the city charter if Walsh left office before March 5. That home rule petition was passed and signed by Governor Charlie Baker but became moot when Walsh stayed on past March 5.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.