As Jamie and Leonard Brennan filled out ballots for the state primary election Saturday, their two young children huddled close by and watched.
It was the first time the Brennans voted early, and Jamie Brennan said they were “super pumped” to vote for Attorney General Maura Healey, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor.
As the family walked out of the North Quincy High School gymnasium the children, 10 and 6 years old, proudly stuck “I Voted” stickers on their T-shirts.
“We get the civic lesson in early,” said Jamie Brennan, 43, who added that the family will be out of town on primary election day, Sept. 6. “We usually make election day a big ‘to-do’ for these guys. We never waste a vote.”
The Massachusetts state primary election may be more than a week away, but nearly a quarter million voters had already voted by mail before in-person early voting kicked off across the state Saturday morning.
For the first time, all Massachusetts voters are able to head to the polls more than a week ahead of the primary to cast ballots in person for the next election. Early voting has been an option since the 2016 general election, but Saturday marks the beginning of mandatory weekend voting hours in all 351 cities and towns.
“It’s critical to vote right this minute, just given where the country is going,” said Bob Sedgwick, a 75-year-old retiree who was first to vote in Quincy on Saturday morning.
He said he supported Healey for governor, citing her record as attorney general.
“It’s why I was first in line, to be honest with you,” he said.
Voters like Sedgwick will choose candidates to fill a variety of positions., including sheriffs, district attorneys, state legislators, governor’s councilors, members of Congress, as well as statewide officials like auditor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor.
In some races, candidates are running unopposed, leaving voters without options.
“It was kind of disheartening to see some people running unopposed,” said Gerry Daly, 60, who voted in Quincy on Saturday. Her state senator, John F. Keenan, does not have a primary opponent. “There are good people and stuff, but you’d think more people would want to get involved in politics.”
The early voting period runs through Friday. Voters can check early voting locations and hours on the secretary of state’s early voting web page — each city or town determines its own hours and sites.
To vote by mail, voters can submit an application through the state’s online application system or download the early ballot application, fill it in, and drop it off at their local election officials’ offices. The application must reach local election offices by 5 p.m. Monday for the Sept. 6 state primary election.
Voters can apply to vote by mail in the Nov. 8 general election the same ways — online or by dropping an application at their election officials’ office — or via the US Postal Service. The applications must be in by Nov. 1.
Robert John Grappi, 74, is a Quincy resident who is not enrolled with a political party. He voted on the Republican primary ballot because he says candidates like Chris Doughty, a Wrentham businessman who is running for governor, reflect his conservative-leaning values. He chose Doughty over his opponent, former Whitman state lawmaker Geoff Diehl, because he remembered Diehl’s failed Senate run in 2018.
“I make my own decisions, and what struck me before was that when [Diehl] was up for the position, he didn’t win the race,” Grappi said.
About 14 percent of Massachusetts’ more than 4.8 million registered voters applied to vote by mail this year, according to a spokesperson for Secretary of State William Galvin. The Massachusetts Legislature passed a sweeping election law in January that made no-excuse mail-in voting permanent and expanded early voting options.
Before the new legislation was enacted, state law allowed for absentee voting if a voter would be out of town on election days, had a religious-based conflict on election days, or had a disability. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in voting was temporarily allowed to keep voters safe from the coronavirus.
Therese Wilson, a 23-year-old graduate student from Braintree, voted Saturday morning with her mother and brother, Joe Wilson, 19. The siblings took advantage of voting early in person at the Braintree Town Hall.
Wilson had attended a town hall with Democratic candidates a few days earlier, and said she wanted to vote while the candidates’ platforms were “fresh in my mind.” She was drawn to Healey, as well as secretary of state candidate Tanisha Sullivan and attorney general candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan.
“I was like, ‘oh wow,’ I like what you’re here for,” said Wilson, who studies public health at Columbia University. “I like that Shannon Liss-Riordan was talking about taking on big corporations. This is a pretty blue-collar town, so unions mean a lot to us.”
Wilson’s brother, a first-time voter and sophomore history major at Skidmore College, said he was glad to “finally exercise this civil right.”
“And of course I got my sticker,” he said.
More than 37 percent of the 666,827 voters who were mailed ballots this year have already submitted them, including about 204,000 Democrat primary ballots and 44,000 Republican primary ballots.
In Dorchester on Saturday, Healey and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston held an event to support attorney general candidate Andrea Campbell, where they were cheered on by supporters outside a community center. Other candidates showed up too, hoping to get their names out to voters.
Christopher Worrell, a Boston Democrat running to represent the Fifth Suffolk District in the State House, wore a bright blue T-shirt with his name on it, and passed out fliers alongside his two young children.
“Historically, this is one of the most underserved voting communities,” Worrell said of Dorchester, where he grew up and is now raising his family. “We are just trying to rile it up.”
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report
Samantha J. Gross can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.