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In Massachusetts, huge disparity in which voters choose to cast ballots by mail

Voting sign.
File photo
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NEPM
Voting sign.

This primary season, voters in low-income areas, in communities of color, tended to turn out in-person on primary day, while the whiter and more affluent communities used mail-in balloting, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office. The state's 26 gateway cities had the lowest rates of mail-in ballots cast in total.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service explains how this pattern could affect candidates and ballot question campaigning as the November election approaches.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Well, obviously, some of these cities, some of these urban areas, places like Boston, Lawrence, Holyoke, these are places that are traditionally Democratic strongholds, places where Democrats can turn out a lot of votes. And I think you're going to see a lot of turnout effort focused on these cities.

This is not looking like it's going to be an election that's going to be decided, at least in some of these big statewide races, by razor thin margins. So, it may not affect the outcome, but one of the things that advocates are saying could be affecting these numbers when it comes to mail-in ballots in urban areas is that these are more transient populations where these applications that go out may be more likely to be sent to the wrong addresses, to not be received in apartment buildings by the intended recipient. And so, if they're not getting to request the mail-in ballot, they end up showing up on Election Day to vote in person. And that's why we'll probably see voter turnout efforts focused in places like this.

While in suburbs where people tend to move less frequently, it's more likely to reach the right person. But this is also something that voter groups are working intensely as they're trying to make this option available to more voters, both this fall in November and moving forward in future years, as mail-in voting has become a permanent part of the election landscape.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: It's interesting that despite the widespread availability of mail-in voting this time around, that the turnout for the primary was the same as it was four years ago. How are officials explaining that?

In some ways, just because of the pandemic, 2020 was something of an anomaly. Mail-in voting made it very easy for people. It was in everybody's faces because it was brand new. And during the pandemic it was widely used. It was still very popular, this time around, more than half of people voted either early or by mail, and only about 4.5 % voted in person early. So, the bulk of those were cast by mail.

But this is also not a presidential election year where we tend to see even higher turnouts. The fact that this is on par with the turnout in 2018 probably bodes pretty well for turnout, all things considered. That was a year when Governor Baker was running for reelection, cruising to a second term. We saw about 60% turnout in the general election that year. And I would venture to guess that we'll probably see something similar this time around.

You notice that Galvin pointed out that the number of ballots actually cast were much higher, and that's because we've seen registration numbers tick up over the years. So, there are even more voters registered this time around. So, by pure numbers, we'll probably see more people vote this year, but percentage wise it could be very similar.

Democrats are favorites to win all the statewide offices, according to a new Globe poll, but Republican auditor candidate Anthony Amore isn't giving up. He wants five debates spread across the state against the Democrat state senator Diana DiZoglio, whose campaign says they also want multiple debates. Do you expect we'll see debates in all statewide contests this year?

I do think we'll see debates pretty much across the board. The question is how many and how often? Secretary of State Bill Galvin, of course, famous for not really liking to debate all that often. He tends to do maybe one, maybe two TV appearances, not the traditional primetime televised debate. With polling showing Democrats holding big advantages in a lot of these races, their incentive to get out there and debate is not great. There will be public pressure for them to do at least one or two.

We know that the Attorney General Healey and Jeff Diehl have agreed to one so far, closer to the primary. Geoff Diehl will be pushing for more. He's already talked about three against her. Jay McMahon running for attorney general, asking for seven debates against his Democratic opponent, Andrea Campbell, who has so far just said, 'we'll see.' She says she's open to debating but just not focused on it right now. But when they're starting out with big electoral and polling advantages against these candidates, some of which are seen as a little to the right of what Massachusetts traditionally elects, and therefore maybe not totally electable and not being taken totally seriously by their Democratic opponents. I think we're likely to see far fewer debates in a lot of these down ballot races.

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.