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About a thousand Boston residents were disenfranchised during the September preliminary election, through no fault of their own. They mailed their ballots on time, but thanks to the US Postal Service, those ballots simply didn’t get to City Hall by the close of business on Election Day.

As it turned out, a thousand votes would not have changed the outcome of the hotly contested five-way mayoral race. City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George came in about 3,000 votes ahead of Councilor Andrea Campbell to secure the second slot in November’s final, which will pit Essaibi George against first-place finisher Michelle Wu.


But fast forward to Nov. 2 — what if that mayoral final is closer? Or, as is more often the case, what if a City Council contest is decided by a mere handful of votes? (Recall that a candidate in the last election won by one vote.)

It does little good to rail against the Postal Service, which recently announced an official slowdown of mail service to save money. (Although the interstate slowdown will certainly complicate life for anyone mailing an absentee ballot while actually being absent from the state.)

“We need an urgent fix for this,” Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin said in an interview. “If you put your ballot in the mail by Election Day and it arrives two or three days later, you should still get to be counted.”

That was the rule during the 2020 election, and it would be made permanent by an election law reform bill passed this week by the state Senate that would also make permanent no-excuses absentee voting and early voting. That bill provides that “mail-in ballots would be accepted for a biennial state election if mailed on or by Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on the third day after the election,” according to a summary put out by the Senate president’s office.


But that doesn’t help Boston get through this November. And Boston isn’t alone. Some 45 municipalities are holding elections next month. Somerville, Lynn, Lawrence, and Holyoke are among those with buzz-generating mayoral races — races that, based on their preliminary contests, could be close.

In Lawrence, for example, former council president and Acting Mayor Kendrys Vasquez took first place in the preliminary, with 3,704 votes. He’s now up against former councilor Brian DePena, who came in second, with 3,247 votes.

In Boston as of mid-week, nearly 53,000 voters had already requested mail-in ballots, an increase of some 6,000 over requests for preliminary ballots — “and that’s pre-debate,” Galvin told the Globe. Given the appallingly low city turnout in September, that’s an encouraging sign.

Voters can put those ballots either in the mail or, as the election gets closer, in special city-operated drop boxes. But if the current law isn’t changed in a hurry, USPS will remain a problematic option.

And, Galvin notes, “That main election law bill is not going to move fast enough” to provide a fix for all of those cities having elections in just a matter of weeks.

Given that the Senate has in its bill proposed same-day voter registration both for Election Day and during early election voting, the bill is likely to run into some headwinds in the House, which last year rejected Election Day voting registration — its use in 21 other states notwithstanding. Governor Charlie Baker has also signaled his opposition to that part of the bill, meaning its road could indeed be a somewhat long one.


So Galvin is looking for a Plan B — either with a freestanding piece of legislation that could zip through both houses in a hurry or as an amendment to another must-pass piece of legislation like a spending bill for past-due accounts. (It’s astonishing how quickly lawmakers can act when they absolutely have to.)

While states around the country are racing to make voting more difficult and restrictive for their residents, Massachusetts has used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring its election laws up to date and bring more people into the process.

“In the face of an ongoing pandemic, Massachusetts did not simply protect voting rights. We reinvigorated our democracy,” said Senator Barry Finegold, chair of the Senate Election Laws Committee, during debate on that omnibus reform bill.

But this relatively small tweak, which will benefit voters in dozens of Massachusetts municipalities right now, really can’t wait for that permanent fix — and voters in places like Boston and Somerville and Lawrence shouldn’t have to.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.