Our Opinion: Assuring fair elections in 2020

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Plans have emerged on Beacon Hill to provide safety from COVID-19 for voters in this fall's election. Each plan has merit and it will be critical in the months ahead to pass a compromise so action can begin on its implementation.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State William Galvin proposed a mail-in ballot for anyone who requests one as well as dramatically expanded in-person voting hours at the polls. His office will need to begin printing ballots for the September ballot right after the June 2 deadline for candidate signatures.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, has joined with state Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, in proposing election reform legislation. In an interview with The Eagle, Sen. Hinds said it would be preferable to send ballots to every eligible voter. This method would eliminate the steps of voters needing to request ballots and the response by the secretary of state's office to fulfill each request. At this time, simplicity is preferable and the Senate plan, like the House plan, is both simpler and preferable when it comes to receiving and sending in ballots. The Hinds-Lesser bill would also require that unaffiliated voters be sent primary ballots along with Democrats and Republicans. Unaffiliated voters, who make up the majority of registered voters in the state, have to choose a party to vote in a primary, and receiving a ballot without having to request it would expedite this matter.

At the national level, President Trump and fellow Republicans have begun a campaign to undermine mail-in voting by claiming without evidence that it leads to vote tampering. Historically, there is no case that mail-in voting leads to voter fraud. It may lead to more people voting, which is what concerns Republicans. And if more voters cast ballots by mail the techniques used in many red states designed to reduce the number of voters will have less of an impact. These techniques includeclosing polling places or shortening hours to create long lines that frustrate voters in minority areas, or pursuing intimidation tactics against black and Latino voters likely to vote Democratic will have less of an impact.

Nontheless, all parties want to preserve the option of voting in person at the polls, which is a tradition as old as our state and our nation. But for the first time in the state, voting day will likely become voting days for safety purposes.

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The Galvin plan calls for an 18-day polling period for the November election while the Senate plan proposes a full three weeks. The differences are readily reconcilable and the plans have the same intent — to spread out the voting and reduce crowds at the polling places. Both the Secretary of State and the Senate proposals call for a seven-day voting period for the September primaries, which are generally lightly attended.

Some ambitious plans rattling around Beacon Hill have called for extending election reform measures past 2020 to 2022 and beyond. Both Mr. Galvin and Sen. Hinds prefer to focus on the upcoming election alone. That is enough of a challenge in this trying period we are in.

A legislative session on Thursday will provide an opportunity to reconcile differences. Cost estimates of the proposals will be discussed as well.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed fractures in our society, said Sen. Hinds in a statement carried by the Statehouse News Service. "Staying focused on instituting a robust vote by mail system in the 2020 elections is a key step toward mending these fractures and upholding the critical role voting plays in our democracy," said the senator.

Our voting system is critical to our democracy and the coronavirus could raise havoc with it. Our secretary of state and our lawmakers must do everything in their power to see that it doesn't. We have confidence that they will.


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