This spring, Secretary of State William Galvin lobbied House lawmakers to support early voting ahead of the September primary, but the proposal sputtered and died, and now Galvin’s primary opponent has blamed him for its demise.
“I think the proof is in the pudding. He’s had the opportunity to work on this for a quarter century,” said Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim.
Zakim and Galvin will face off in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary for the statewide elected office that oversees elections among other responsibilities. The winner of the primary is scheduled to face Republican Anthony Amore, of Swampscott, in the November election. There will be early voting in the November general election but not in the September primary.
Email correspondence provided by Galvin’s office show that the Brighton Democrat’s office worked with lawmakers in the Senate to include an early primary voting provision in a midyear spending bill and then unsuccessfully encouraged House members to go along with it.
Galvin asked a House-Senate conference committee to agree to an amendment the Senate adopted on a 35-3 vote that would have allowed people to vote early in the five weekdays preceding the Sept. 4 primary. The amendment was sponsored by Andover Democrat Sen. Barbara L’Italien, who is running for Congress.
“This amendment offers a substantial window for voters to get to the polls at as minimal a reimbursement cost as possible for the Commonwealth,” Galvin wrote to the conference committee in May, according to a draft letter provided by his office. Galvin told the News Service a ballpark estimate for the cost of that early primary voting proposal is about $1 million.
Zakim late last week seized on the failure of an early primary voting measure to allege that Galvin wants to depress voter turnout.
“Once again Bill Galvin’s inaction and obstructionist tactics are attempting to depress voter turnout and protect entrenched incumbents like himself,” Zakim said in a statement Friday. “First, he brazenly schedules the state primary for the day after Labor Day for the first time in Massachusetts history. And now he has failed to work with the Legislature to schedule and fund an early voting period, two years after he finally got around to introducing the concept.”
Zakim acknowledged that he didn’t directly lobby the conference committee to include the early voting provision after it passed the Senate, but he has pushed for early primary voting on the campaign trail and in meetings with legislators, according to his campaign.
The idea that Galvin is to blame for inaction on early voting legislation is “absurd,” the incumbent told the News Service on Tuesday, and then asked who had suggested that. Told that Zakim had leveled the charge, Galvin said, “Take it from whence it comes.”
“Everything I did was to try to move it along,” Galvin said.
First elected in 2013, Zakim represents the Back Bay and Beacon Hill neighborhoods and chairs the council’s committee on civil rights. The secretary of state doesn’t have a formal role in the legislative process aside from his authority to sponsor legislation, but he can use his bully pulpit and other tools of persuasion.
“He’s had 24 years to institute early voting for our primaries. He’s had 24 years to figure out what to do about the primary date and to address these issues, and the fact that he sends letters in his 24th year in office when he finally has a challenge I don’t think deserves much credit,” Zakim told the News Service.
Galvin said five days of early voting before this year’s primary would have mitigated his scheduling of the primary for the day after the Labor Day holiday this year. The secretary has also encouraged local election officials to make it easy for people to cast absentee ballots if they will be out of town, he said. The calendar of Jewish high holidays and the need for overseas troops to receive ballots ahead of election day left no good options for scheduling the primary, Galvin said.
“We didn’t really have a choice,” Galvin said. Zakim said earlier this year that the primary should be scheduled on the weekend of Sept. 15-16.
Galvin and Zakim both support automatic voter registration, and a bill that would task MassHealth, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Health Connector with facilitating automatic voter registration has reached Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
Good government advocates agreed that that legislation would be at risk of derailment if an early primary voting provision had been added to it, according to Galvin.
“We barely got it through as it was,” Galvin said. He said, “They did not want to risk it.”
Massachusetts offered early voting for the first time in the November 2016 general election and Galvin said it was a “phenomenal success” that should be “extended to all municipal elections” at least as a local option.
When he was lobbying for early primary voting, Galvin said he did not hear exactly why the House members opposed the measure.
“There was no argument offered to me. No one said they were against the concept,” Galvin said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office did not offer comment on why the measure did not gain approval in that branch.
Asked about an early voting period for the primary, Rep. John Mahoney, a Worcester Democrat who is House chairman of the Election Laws Committee, said there was “really no outcry for it here in the House.”
“The primaries are very very low turnout anyways so it seems the people who are interested show up for those,” Mahoney previously told the News Service.
“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Galvin said. “His area of Worcester obviously has fewer contests right now than other areas of the state.”
Zakim disagreed with Mahoney.
“That’s exactly not what we want to be talking about,” Zakim told the News Service. “We want to be making it easier for people to show up.”
In his statement, Zakim also assigned some blame to Galvin for low primary turnout, and promised that he would operate differently if elected.
“Under Galvin, primary turnout in Massachusetts has dipped to historic lows, and any attempt that makes it easier to get people to the polls – from early voting to weekend voting to Election Day Registration – should be prioritized,” Zakim said. “Early voting was first introduced in Massachusetts in advance of the 2016 presidential election and more than one million people turned out to vote. There is absolutely no reason not to do it again. Why can’t a 24-year incumbent work with legislative leaders to get this done? The only plausible explanation is to keep turnout low and protect the status quo. Voters deserve better. It’s a shame that voters will have missed an opportunity this election cycle, but this will be the last time. When I’m Secretary of State, things will change.”