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'Different Dynamics' Expected On Mass. Primary As Mail-In, Early Voting Shifts Norms

A ballot drop box in Shelburne, Massachusetts.
Carrie Healy
A ballot drop box in Shelburne, Massachusetts.

The 2020 Massachusetts primary on Sept. 1 will whittle down the candidates and offer a major test to the state's mail-in voting system.

For many cities and towns, Tuesday's primary is the first voting in a new coronavirus world. 

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin last week reminded voters that mail-in ballots may be hand-delivered to the local election office, or to a drop box in town — but not to the regular polling place, with a number of voters making the decision to avoid the polls in person.

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about how well the process has gone so far, and whether long delays in results are expected Tuesday night.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: I think we don't know for sure. It does seem that there was strong interest in the mail-in voting option. Close to a million people had requested ballots for this primary.

The secretary said over the weekend that around 700,000 people have already voted in this state primary, which is very interesting — a lot of that coming by mail-in voting. Also, for the first time, Massachusetts has also had in-person early voting ahead of the state primary.

So a lot of different options for voters, which could create some different dynamics on election night as clerks work to count all these ballots.

We do expect to get results on Tuesday night, perhaps later, depending on how close some of these races are. But unlike in November, when we have an even different scenario — when a ballot only has to be postmarked by Election Day — all ballots in this primary have to be returned to the clerk by Tuesday.

So all the ballots should be in hand. They should be counted. And it just might take a little longer.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: For the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat on the Democratic side, incumbent Ed Markey is running against U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy. Does anything surprise you about how this race has taken shape in recent days?

Markey has really defined himself as this progressive warrior, doing very well it seems, among young voters, and seems to have the momentum. A lot of recent polling showing he is ahead of his challenger, Joseph Kennedy.

But Kennedy, on the stump throughout the weekend, was talking about the need to drive out his vote. He believes the vote is there if he can get them to the polls. They are hoping that in-person voting is where the Kennedy vote is — and potentially, in some of these urban districts that have yet to hit the polls. So this could be one of those tight ones on election night.

In the U.S. House — Democrats Richard Neal and Alex Morse are going at it in a primary race for the 1st Congressional District. In eastern Mass., the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary is a very crowded affair. Together, these races have the potential to shake up the state's congressional delegation. What are you hearing?

We'll for sure have one new member of the delegation coming out of the 4th — that crowded field. Seven Democrats are currently competing for Congressman Kennedy's seat, when he leaves the House. That is going to be one to watch, where just a small portion of the electorate could decide that some of these candidates are trying to lock down their bases in order to get to the 20% they need to win.

In the 1st — another interesting race that surprisingly, we saw Governor Charlie Baker weigh in, the Republican governor endorsing Congressman Neal, the powerful Ways and Means chairman. But Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, of course, reaching the $2 million-raised threshold over the weekend, or late last week — he is certainly giving the incumbent a run for his money. This is another one that I think is a lot closer than people maybe thought early on.

Quite a few races tomorrow will shape the state legislature. In Hampden County alone, we have five contested primaries. How active have Beacon Hill leaders been in primaries this year?

It's been a different sort of year. I think the pandemic has certainly curtailed some of their activity a bit.

Normally, when you have a lot of people running uncontested in these primaries, they tend to get out onto the trail to help some of their colleagues. We're not seeing as much of that because of the pandemic, in the way in-person campaigning has kind of taken on a different form, and it's been a different sort of year. It's the same situation in Hampden County.

We are going to see some new faces coming to the legislature, of course — Jose Tosado, the race for his seat; the race to replace John Velis, in the House after he jumped to the Senate. You have Tom Petrolati [not running again] — I think that's an uncontested, one-person race. But another new face coming in from western Mass. of the delegation from the Springfield area is going to look completely different. And it will be interesting to see who those faces are after Tuesday night.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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