Boston petition may turn up pressure on mail-in voting

After the lapse of no-excuse voting by mail in Massachusetts, a Boston city councilor hopes that his petition will ramp up the pressure on Beacon Hill to ensure city voters regain that option before they head to the polls to select a new mayor.

Councilor Ricardo Arroyo filed one home rule petition seeking to permanently authorize expanded early voting and mail-in voting in Boston municipal elections and another allowing prospective voters to register and cast a ballot on the date of either the preliminary or general election.

If the council approves those measures, they would need to clear the Legislature, which remains at an impasse over voting policies -- but Arroyo said during a Thursday hearing that they serve as "our way the city of Boston, for the City Council to say, 'These are the things we would like to see permanently in place in our elections.' "

Legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker largely agree that mail-in voting offered significant value during the pandemic and should remain a feature in Massachusetts, but the House and Senate have been unable to find consensus on the details, forcing municipalities with elections this summer and fall to revert to the old absentee ballot rules and taking popular voting options off the table.

Arroyo flagged concerns with each branch's approach. A Senate vote to extend the pandemic-era policy into December would cover Boston's Sept. 14 preliminary election and Nov. 2 general election, but not future contests, he said. The House's permanent authorization for mail-in voting applies only to biennial state primaries, general elections and municipal elections that fall on those days, which Arroyo said would create "this weird sort of thing" where Boston voters would be able to cast ballots by mail in even-year elections but not odd-year municipal races.

The Legislature has yet to make a serious run at adopting same-day or Election Day voter registration, despite support for the proposal from many legislators and activists, and Arroyo said he separated the topics into two petitions intentionally.

"If we send both of these up to the State House, and we know how that goes, if the State House decides they like one but they're not going to touch the other one, at least we still get some of these voter access rights through," he said.

City election officials did not respond to a request for information about when mail-in ballot applications would need to be sent out in connection with the Sept. 14 preliminary election.

Ahead of the Sept. 1 statewide primary last year, Secretary of State William Galvin's office printed mailers over the Fourth of July weekend and began shipping mailers around July 15, according to a spokesperson.

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