Voting by mail could be at risk for several Massachusetts communities holding elections this year — including Boston — if state lawmakers can’t reach an agreement to extend provisions soon, Secretary of State William F. Galvin warned in a letter sent Tuesday to state legislative leaders.
Writing to Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, Galvin urged the Legislature to act swiftly, warning that current laws allowing voting by mail without needing an excuse to do so are set to expire on June 30. While both Democratic leaders have signaled support for extending the pandemic-era provisions, the two chambers have so far been unable to agree on even a temporary extension of the COVID-era voting provisions.
Galvin told the Globe this week that he fears jockeying between the House and Senate will prevent the reform from becoming law in time.
“Several local elections being held in July will be affected. Moreover, several large cities including Boston have active preliminary elections scheduled for September 14, 2021, less than ninety days from now. For budgetary and planning purposes these cities must have clarity,” Galvin wrote in his letter to Mariano and Spilka. “Urgent action is needed.”
Earlier this month, the Senate moved to extend vote-by-mail through December, but that provision was tabled before the bill went to the governor’s desk. The House, for its part, passed a permanent extension to vote-by-mail provisions as part of a supplemental budget bill, but the Senate doesn’t appear eager to resolve the issue in that vehicle.
State Senator Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s Elections Committee, said he’s optimistic that the two chambers will work out a compromise.
“We’re very close,” Finegold said. “The majority of the substance is the same.”
Still, the clock is ticking, Galvin said, and there’s no time to waste.
The policy “shouldn’t be lost in the branches in some back-and-forth,” Galvin said in an interview with the Globe.
A statement from Galvin’s office that accompanied his letter to Beacon Hill warned that voters “face the possibility of being unable to submit applications to vote by mail in their upcoming fall elections.” He urged lawmakers to extend the rules at least through the end of the year.
Failure to extend vote-by-mail could be particularly disruptive to Boston’s upcoming municipal elections. The mayor’s post is up for grabs, with a historically diverse slate of candidates vying for the job. According to a list from the city’s elections department, eight mayoral candidates have qualified for the preliminary election in September. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the preliminary will move on to the general election Nov. 2.
The Boston City Council also faces its biggest turnover in more than two decades, with 48 candidates on the ballot across nine district races and the contest for two at-large seats.
Before lawmakers passed a law amid the pandemic allowing every registered voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail, state law had limited absentee balloting to those who had specific reasons for not being able to make it to the polls, including if they are disabled or would be out of town on Election Day.
Milton J. Valencia contributed to this report.