BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – The secretary of state’s office has already mailed out almost 950,000 ballots in advance of the Sept. 1 primary election, representing nearly a quarter of the state’s 4.5 million registered voters.
The estimate of ballots mailed so far comes as the United States Postal Service faces increased scrutiny over whether it will be able to deliver mail-in ballots on time for local clerks to count them. USPS officials set off an uproar in late July when they warned states that deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Services’ delivery standard.
But on Tuesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a statement saying that he would suspend operational initiatives “that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic” until after the election, to avoid the appearance of effects on electoral mail.
DeJoy also announced the expansion of a leadership task force on election mail. He said retail post office hours will not change, mail processing equipment and collection boxes “will remain where they are,” no mail processing facilities will be closed, and overtime will be approved as needed.
Secretary of State William Galvin said about 149,000 ballots have been returned to local clerks and he expects mail-in voting will help boost participation while taking into account public health guidelines. The state’s top election official said “a lot of people” who requested ballots were primarily motivated by voting in the November general election, adding that more than a million people asked for ballots for the general election.
“This has been a very tedious effort to get all these ballots out. It was a very large mailing, and it had a great response, but it required a great deal of work at the local level to put these ballots out especially in a timely way,” he said at a Tuesday press conference.
Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday announced a lawsuit to prevent the Trump administration from cutting back USPS operations as the elections approach.
“This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has backed down when Democratic AGs have filed suit,” said AG Healey. “But we aren’t going to just take Postmaster General DeJoy at his word – we need concrete action and binding agreements. With no indication of that, we are moving forward with our lawsuit to hold the Trump administration accountable for its illegal actions and to make sure every vote counts.”
Galvin said his office has been in contact with Healey’s, providing the attorney general “detailed information.”
“The Postal Service has been able to provide ballot delivery even during wars. So I don’t understand why this would be such a problem,” Galvin said Tuesday. “This is a national issue. It needs to be addressed. My experience with the Trump administration through the census has been the only way to remedy bureaucratic problems that they create is to go to court. And I think that is the right answer here too.”
In a Twitter thread posted to the social media website on Tuesday, Healey said the Trump administration is attempting to “slow down the Postal Service to rig the election.”
“Like many of this Administration’s policies, its changes to USPS are illegal. Modifications to the Postal Service with a nationwide impact on mail service must be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission,” she wrote on Twitter. “Trump can’t just wake up and unilaterally disrupt our mail system.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said he was “uncomfortable” commenting on whether he would support potential litigation without knowing more information.
“Usually, the role we play, if they ask us to play one, is on a sort of amicus basis to just give a discussion about what the implications of whatever the issue are, would be,” he said at separate Tuesday press conference. “And that’s our way usually of supporting those kinds of initiatives. I’m not aware that they’ve asked us for that. If they were to ask us we obviously would respond.”
Out of concern for Postal Service delays, Galvin said his office made sure that the application and ballot mailings went out as early as possible. Additionally, the secretary of state’s office advised localities to have drop boxes available at secure locations for voters to drop off their ballots.
“That gave voters the opportunity to make sure they return their ballot as quickly as possible as well and make sure that any disruption or delay in Postal Service would not have any effect on them,” he said.
A law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on July 6 directed the secretary of state to send out mail-in ballot applications by July 15. Galvin told reporters nearly a week before the date that would not meet the deadline set out in the legislation unless the Legislature provided funding.
Election reform and voting rights advocates and the secretary of state disagreed over permissible funding sources to mail out ballot applications and a group of seven nonwhite voters, Common Cause Massachusetts, and MassVOTE filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the secretary to mail applications.
The governor’s office agreed to advance funds included in a $1.14 billion COVID-19 supplemental budget so Galvin’s could move forward with mailing vote-by-mail applications.
The rush to solidify new vote-by-mail laws in the state came as a response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Residents have three options for voting in the primary election, regular in-person voting, voting-by-mail, and a seven-day early in-person voting period that starts Saturday.
Voters who chose to vote-by-mail can track their ballots on the secretary of state’s webiste, a measure that Galvin said would ensure residents know their ballots were cast.
Galvin said state and local officials “are going to great lengths” to make sure that voters who choose to head to the polls will be safe. Polling locations will observe social distancing guidelines, institute precautions for workers like PPEs and plexiglass guards, and space out voting booths.
“In fact, I would suggest to you that it’ll be safer than going to many supermarkets,” he said. “For those that wish to vote in person, who perhaps have delayed some final decisions on choices in the primary, and don’t want to avail themselves of voting by mail, voting in person is an option.”