Editorial: It’s past time for vote-by-mail system in Mass

Published: 6/18/2020 9:39:08 AM

Do as President Donald Trump does — vote by mail. Don’t believe what he says — voting by mail will lead to fraud.

   In March, Trump voted in the Florida presidential primary by mail. Since then, he has gone on many rants, without evidence, saying that such a system will lead to voter fraud and help Democratic candidates win. He’s wrong, of course.

Vote-by-mail is not a new concept — one quarter of all ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election were by mail, twice as many as in 2004, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission — and the list of reasons to adopt the system is long.

Now it looks like Massachusetts residents who want to may finally get a chance to try the system out this fall. While voters have been able to cast absentee ballots for years with a valid excuse, the state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would adopt a vote-by-mail system in time for a September primary and the general election in November.

This change — the House approved its own version earlier this month and now the two bills must be reconciled — is being driven by the coronavirus pandemic and fears that people will not be able to safely vote in person this year. We hope this is merely the first step to adoption of a permanent vote-by-mail system in the Bay State. Such systems are popular among voters and they work.

Currently, five states are 100% vote-by-mail — Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii — and California is gradually adopting the system. Other states have all-mail voting in small jurisdictions. Additionally, another roughly dozen states, including Massachusetts, is in the process of adopting vote-by-mail or absentee voting legislation due to safety concerns amid the pandemic.

Voting by mail increases the number of people who vote, especially groups that tend to vote less frequently. If the mantra “Your vote counts” really means something, then this is a way to get more of those votes to count. It’s a simple, powerful way to boost democracy.

Since 2000, more than a quarter of a billion votes have been cast via ballots delivered directly to the voter, according to the National Vote at Home Institute, which predicts that in-person voting on Election Day this year will be less than 50% of the total.

The institute found that over 40% of those who don’t vote cite reasons such as work conflicts; illnesses or disability; busyness; or transportation issues. Voting by mail eliminates these barriers and others, such as bad weather, traffic or long lines at polling stations.

Other studies have found that vote-by-mail systems cost more up front but are cheaper in the long run, due in part to the need for fewer poll locations and poll workers; they are safer, with virtually no documented incidents of abuse in states that have been using the system for two decades; and, most importantly, they meet the needs of, and are convenient for, voters.

Of course, voters who like to visit a gym or senior center to vote, chat with their favorite poll worker and get an “I voted” sticker can still do so.

Although he has expressed reservations about how quickly the process is being established in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker should sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

While details of the bill were still being ironed out, here’s an idea of how voting by mail would work. Secretary of State William Galvin would be required to mail every registered voter in the state a mail-in ballot application by July 15. Voters would then need to fill out their application and return it to receive a mail-in ballot. Once they fill out the ballot, voters can mail or hand-deliver it to their city or town clerk, or drop it in a secured municipal drop box. The Senate waded through 40-plus amendments Tuesday, with one of the bigger ones being withdrawn. That amendment called for adopting a plan to mail ballots directly to all registered voters instead of first making those who want to vote by mail apply.

Efforts to establish this new process for 2022 and beyond is for a future debate, but momentum is likely to build to make this change permanent. Given that mail-in voter fraud is essentially nonexistent and the system boosts voter turnout, vote-by-mail should be here to stay.


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