PITTSFIELD — During the 2020 presidential election, almost 44 percent of Berkshire County residents who voted did so by mail. That was right around the state average among Massachusetts’ 14 counties, a leap forward for the practice due to the pandemic.
Voting by mail became a permanent option in Massachusetts in June when Gov. Charlie Baker signed the VOTES Act. The bill survived a court challenge in July by state Republicans who believed the measure violated the state constitution. Since then, Secretary of State William Galvin has been traveling across the state making sure people know they can mail in their election choices.
“In 2020 it was necessary because of the pandemic,” Galvin said this past week, during a visit to Berkshire County. “But it was so successful that we sought to make it permanent. We’re eager to make sure that people know that it’s available to them.”
The new law allows for “no excuse” mail-in voting. “You always had had the right to vote by absentee ballot if you had a reason, if you were going to be out of town or you were ill, or something like that,” Galvin said. “But it always had certain restrictions on it. It was more cumbersome.”
Galvin said the option enables voters to cast ballots by mail in the Democratic Party primaries for both district attorney and sheriff Sept. 6. Both races could generate a sizable response, because there are no Republican Party candidates for either of those positions in the November general election.
He doesn’t expect mail-in voting in the Berkshires to reach 44 percent again in this year’s elections, but believes it could be as high as 20 percent.
“For most people, to vote by mail is the simplest thing to do if either they don’t want to vote on election day because they have other commitments or they’re still concerned about COVID,” Galvin said.
Mail-in ballots have been mailed to every registered voter in the state, regardless of party affiliation.
“Everyone should have received an application by now,” Galvin said.
The ballots are postage pre-paid, both ways, which means no postage fee is assessed.
Based on the number of mail-in ballots already been returned, Galvin said the option appears to be popular.
Galvin said scattered issues have been reported with the postal service. “Not so many that I’ve been aware of specific ones in Berkshire County, but generally,” he said. “The postal service, as you may be aware, has had a lot of personnel issues as of late and we’ve had some concerns about delivery and promptness of delivery.”
Galvin said his office has been helping local voting officials, including those in North Adams, where there has been staff turnover.