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Editorial

Early voting in the Mass. 2020 presidential primary? Yes, please.

Voters head to room 3002 for early voting at the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office in Norwalk, Calif., on Nov. 5, a day ahead the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Voters head to room 3002 for early voting at the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office in Norwalk, Calif., on Nov. 5, a day ahead the Nov. 6 midterm elections. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

What if Massachusetts voters had more impact on the 2020 presidential primaries?

That may very well happen if the Legislature approves a proposal to allow for early voting in the March 3, 2020, presidential primary. It’s a good idea and deserves passage.

The merits of allowing voters to cast ballots at early and convenient times have been demonstrated in general elections. The system does incur costs for cities and towns from staffing voting sites, but the high level of participation suggests that benefits of early voting far outweigh the costs. In the 10 days prior to the midterm elections in November, more than a half-million voters cast their vote early. In the November 2016 presidential election, roughly a million voters cast early ballots, representing more than 22 percent of the state’s registered voters.

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Currently, though, Massachusetts allows early voting only for state elections, not for primaries or municipal contests. That’s what Secretary of State William Galvin is now aiming to change.

“Looking forward to 2020, I am now seeing a strong level of interest in the presidential election, which will be one of the most important presidential elections we’ll have in this country for a long time,” said Galvin, who is planning to file a bill on Beacon Hill next year to expand early voting to include the presidential primary.

Galvin will ask for a five-day early-voting period instead of 10; voters could cast their ballot the last week of February, five weekdays ahead of March 3, 2020. The compressed calendar is by design. “In the presidential primary process, time has shown that the field changes rapidly, so if you give people too much early notice, like 10 days, there may be a change in the field, so I’d rather keep it current and relevant,” he added.

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Under Democratic Party rules, only four states are allowed to hold presidential primaries before March: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. But early voting can start before then. As early voting has been widely adopted across the country, it has changed the dynamics of the presidential primaries.

For instance, California, the country’s most populated state, moved its primary to March 3, and thanks to early voting, residents of the Golden State will have the opportunity to cast their ballot as early as Iowans. Vermont’s early voting will start Jan. 18, a couple of weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

There’s no reason why Massachusetts shouldn’t offer early voting, as well. Still, Galvin’s plan has faced criticism. “I’ve seen people suggesting that I’m doing this because I’m a Democrat,” he noted. “But this would apply to everybody, to both Republicans and Democrats. It’s a small ‘d’ democratic proposal.”

Several New England candidates are said to be considering entry into the Democratic race, which probably will be hotly contested. Early voting would give the state’s voters a little more influence over the party’s direction, while also while making it easier for voters to go to the polls at the time that’s most convenient for them. What’s not to like?