In the spring, the City of Boston rescheduled this year’s preliminary municipal election date from Sept. 21 to Sept. 14. The change was made in order to accommodate the work needed to implement mail-in and in-person early voting, which were enacted for last year’s presidential and state elections due to COVID-19.
Yet those rules expired on June 30, and the state Legislature has failed to ensure that Bostonians will have access to those COVID-era electoral provisions in this year’s municipal election. Lawmakers couldn’t even agree to temporarily extend the voting options to cover Boston’s preliminary contest in September and its general election in November.
The failure to act has been a dereliction of duty on Beacon Hill’s part. On Thursday, the Boston City Council upped the pressure, holding a hearing on a home rule petition that would provide another avenue for the Legislature to allow early voting in the city. By whichever legislative vehicle they choose, lawmakers must act immediately so there’s enough time to plan, publicize, and conduct early voting.
“Boston’s municipal government has essentially said, ‘We want this for our municipal election,’” said City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo of the expanded early voting options. Arroyo filed the home rule petition, which the City Council must pass before it goes to Acting Mayor Kim Janey for her signature and is thensent to the Legislature for final approval. Arroyo’s petition would make mail-in voting and early in-person voting permanent options for all municipal elections in the city.
“The city needs the time to prepare to do vote-by-mail adequately,” said Secretary of State William Galvin, whose office provided technical support for Arroyo’s home rule petition. Boston’s preliminary mayoral election is roughly two months away, with a deadline to register to vote of Aug. 25. Not only are Bostonians picking a mayor, but the City Council is expected to undergo a major makeover, with nearly 50 candidates on the ballot in total for nine district races and two at-large seats.
There are a few open mayoral contests elsewhere in the state: in Lynn, Lawrence, and Holyoke, for instance. Those three communities have a high percentage of residents of color who belong to traditionally disenfranchised communities. As of now, none of them are allowed to do mail-in or in-person early voting either. Arroyo’s home rule petition wouldn’t help them, which is why the Legislature ought to have already extended the reforms statewide. Nevertheless: “The issue is urgent for Boston because of its size,” said Galvin. Indeed, the city must start planning as soon as possible because of the number of mailings that must be printed and the number of volunteers needed to staff early voting locations.
Last year, Massachusetts responded enthusiastically to mail-in and in-person early voting options. “In both the 2020 September primary and November general election, a majority of voters cast their ballots early, either by mail or early in-person,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, at Thursday’s Boston City Council hearing. “Both the primary and state election witnessed the highest turnout in decades. Last year, voters made it clear that they do not only approve of but deeply value mail-in and early voting.”
Galvin said he was disturbed by Republican officials’ ruthless efficiency in passing measures in other states that make it harder for people to vote. Sadly, Beacon Hill must have learned the wrong lesson from those Republicans: Our state lawmakers are being callously inefficient when it comes to making common-sense, proven electoral reforms permanent. The state experienced no scandals or major problems with voting last year, which provided an exceptional test-run for these measures.
In the meantime, the Boston City Council can keep the pressure on Beacon Hill by passing the home rule petition to make early voting options a permanent fixture in local politics. But one way or another, it’s up to the Legislature to ensure that voting rights don’t erode in Massachusetts the way they have in too many other states.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.