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Pause before extending mail-in voting, Massachusetts Republicans ask

Massachusetts Republican lawmakers want legislative leaders to pump the brakes on the push to make mail-in voting permanent.

Four Republican legislators, three of whom serve on the Joint Committee on Election Laws, sent a letter to House Speaker Ron Mariano calling for more debate and discussion before extending mail-in voting. The House on Monday approved a bill backed by Mariano to extend the COVID-19 mail-in voting law through June so lawmakers can debate more permanent election reforms.

Sen. Ryan Fattman, Rep. Shawn Dooley and Rep. Marc Lombardo, who serve on the Elections Committee, signed onto a letter with Rep. Nicholas Boldyga dated Tuesday urging Mariano to discuss how mail-in voting worked in the 2020 elections before making any decisions on extending the option.

“Now it is our duty to conduct an analysis to help the Joint Committee with identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the no-fault vote by mail system from 2020,” the letter states. “We owe it to the voters of Massachusetts to conduct this important step, hear from the public and ask Secretary Galvin questions that still remain unanswered.”

The four lawmakers sent a similar letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin asking a series of questions.

Some questions include: How many vote-by-mail applications that were sent to households were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as “undeliverable mail” ahead of the primary and general elections? Were voters’ signatures matched with their signature on record at the clerk’s office? Were the original applications and ballots returned by the postal service kept in a secure location? How much did sending mail-in ballots cost for each election?

Lawmakers also asked whether a no-fault mail-in voting option would be needed once COVID-19 vaccines are widely administered and Massachusetts achieves herd immunity.

By his own estimates, Galvin says the no-excuse mail-in voting option was successful in encouraging voting despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts broke voter turnout records during both the Sept. 1 state primary and the general election.

The state primary drew more than 1.7 million voters, breaking the 1990 record of 1.4 million. More than 3.65 million people voted in the Nov. 3 election, breaking the 2016 record of 3.3 million.

But the rollout had a bumpy start. The learning curve for local election clerks and the operations disruptions from the U.S. Postal Service leading up to election season led to delays in people receiving their vote-by-mail applications and ballots ahead of the primary. In some cases, people submitted ballots, but their votes weren’t counted in the Sept. 1 election.

Galvin said his office worked with local election clerks, holding webinars and getting clerks to troubleshoot issues together as they prepared for the general election.

Testifying during the fiscal 2022 budget hearing, Galvin described the 2020 elections as a success and promoted his proposal to make no-excuse mail-in voting a permanent option.

“I think they will be greatly helpful to our voters,” Galvin told the Ways and Means Committee during Tuesday’s fiscal 2022 budget hearing.

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