So much skepticism and doubt nationally has veiled the mail-in voting and early voting initiatives brought about by COVID-19 restrictions, but ahead of the Sept. 1 State Primary, Boston Elections Commissioner Eneida Tavares said she is confident and the process has been running very smoothly to date.
Last Friday, during a tour of the mail-in operations and in-person, early voting protocols, Tavares said she was not worried about the mail-in votes arriving or not. In fact, she said they had received many thousands for the Primary already.
“We have check ins and we check in regularly with the Post Office and make sure there are no holds on our mail,” she said. “We have a good number of returns already. We’ve received approximately 11,000 ballots.”
When asked if there had been any problems with the postal service in Boston regarding the election, she said, “No.”
Tavares said they had received, by last Friday, 79,000 requests for mail-in ballots and absentee ballots. Out of that number, there were 5,925 that were for absentee ballots. The rest were requests for mail-in ballots.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in this upcoming election,” she said. “This is the first time vote by mail is an option for voters in Massachusetts. Absentees have always been allowed and the numbers of traditional absentee ballots requested are comparable to other State Primaries.”
That is certainly the case in the downtown neighborhoods, where thousands of mail-in ballots for the Primary have already been requested. As of Tuesday this week, there were 9,975 mail-in ballots and absentee ballots requested from Ward 4 (South End and Fenway) and Ward 5 (Back Bay, Bay Village and Beacon Hill). Mail-in ballots for Ward 4 totaled 3,640, and for Ward 5 it was 6,335.
Of course, just because one requests a ballot and gets it in the mail does not mean they have to send it in to vote. Tavares said some people have requested a ballot so they can have it in case things don’t go well at the polls or COVID-19 cases are on the rise. In that case they can mail it in or put it in a City Hall drop-box by Sept. 1. However, if they do feel comfortable to go to early, in-person voting or to vote in-person on Election Day, they can forego the mailed ballot and vote in person instead.
It is all very complicated, but between keeping all that straight and making sure voting precincts are socially-distanced and following protocols, Tavares said she was confident.
Meanwhile, for those who do vote by mail, she said there are strict guidelines to follow. When the ballot comes, it must be mailed back in the postage-paid Affidavit Envelope and that envelope must be signed. It is a white envelope.
“It’s extremely important they sign that Affidavit Envelope,” she said.
The mail-in ballots going out and being received are currently being processed by staff that have repurposed all kinds of spaces at City Hall to work.
Ballots that are received on time by mail have to be sent to the proper Ward and Precinct to be opened and fed into the right machine to be counted, she said, so there will be quite an operation to undertake on Sept. 1 for them to arrange and deliver the ballots.