Our Opinion: More than ever, your vote matters

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With the Sept. 1 primary just around the corner, voters are ready to have their voices heard on how Massachusetts should be represented on Capitol Hill. In a pandemic-stricken election season, voter awareness has become all the more important as the gears of our democracy have shifted amid a public health crisis.

Mail-in voting will figure more prominently in the upcoming state primary as well as the general election in November. Residents have likely seen a mail-in ballot application arrive in their mailbox. Voters can fill out and return this application, or download a vote-by-mail application at the secretary of the commonwealth's website. Applications must reach local election offices by Aug. 26 for the state primary, so those who wish to vote by mail in the primary but haven't yet sent out an application should do so now. For the general election, applications must reach local election offices by Oct. 28. For many, this is a new process, so the secretary of the commonwealth has provided a thorough slate of frequently asked questions and answers on voting by mail that voters can review online.

Voters can also cast an early ballot in person. The state's early-voting period for the state primary kicked off Saturday, Aug. 22, and will continue through Friday, Aug. 28, with specific times and locations set by local elections offices. When voting early in person, election officials will check in voters just like on Election Day, and ballots will be sealed in an envelope to be counted on Election Day. Amid a viral outbreak, there is an added premium on the convenience of casting one's ballot ahead of time and skipping the Election Day crowding and lines at polling places. To find out how to vote early in your municipality, you can visit the early voting dates and locations page on the secretary of the commonwealth's website or check in with your town clerk's office.

Of course, there's always the option of voting the old-fashioned way: casting your ballot in person at your community's polling place on Election Day. Be sure to adhere to all public health guidelines — wear a mask; maintain proper distancing whenever possible; be efficient with your time to limit your indoor exposure to others and curb crowding at polling locations. Additionally, be kind to poll workers, who will be grappling with new protocols. Their job entails coming into contact with many people amid a viral pandemic, and it should be recognized that they are taking on greater risk to ensure our democracy remains durable in a tumultuous time. For this, they deserve our thanks and, if necessary, our patience.

Primary day in Massachusetts will be a decisive moment in its own right, as well as a technical preview to November's monumental presidential election in a cycle that has been turned on its head by the coronavirus crisis. In times when our democracy is tested, participation becomes all the more paramount. Let your voice be heard and vote — any which way you can.

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