During a hearing this week, Boston city councilors discussed how to allow early voting in municipal elections, similar to state elections. The overriding goal is to boost voter turnout in city contests.
According to Councilor Josh Zakim, only 28 percent of voters showed up at the polls in the 2017 municipal election. However, residents were allowed to vote early in this past election in November, and voter turnout was high. More than 20 percent of those votes came from early voting.
Zakim said he knows the State House and other cities and towns are working on new early voting laws and ordinances.
“We need to make sure Boston is leading on this,” he said.
Councilor Matt O’Malley agreed.
“We ought to have early voting in every election,” he said.
Elections Commissioner Dion Irish said if the councilors want early voting for September, they need at least six months to get prepared. However, he said if the council passed the motion soon, the election commission would be prepared. It would cost the city around $380,000 for early voting in September. Municipal elections cost more for Boston than statewide elections because they have to print their own ballots.
“If we are going to do early voting, we need to have enough time to find voting locations and get staffing,” said Irish.
Irish said the city tries to get a voting location for every neighborhood in the city or at least very close to everyone. Irish would like to allow for eleven days before the election for residents to vote, with the Friday before Election Day being the last day to vote early.
Councilor Ed Flynn said he wants to make voting easier for veterans who are overseas, and for the disabled population.
“We need to make voting easy for everyone,” he explained.
Irish said they have created a video for poll workers on how to work with disabled voters and make the experience as easy as possible.
Irish announced that residents can expect new updated voting machines this September as well.
City Councilor Kim Janey expressed frustration at other parts of the country taking away voting rights to citizens.
“We need to make voting as easy as possible,” she said. “We can’t have that happen in Boston.”
Mayor Martin Walsh and the Legislature have to approve the change after the council before it is enacted.
“Let’s get this to Beacon Hill quick,” said Zakim. “It’s an ambitious goal, but we can do it.”
Councilor Flaherty stated that the Administration would like to hold this matter and submit it to Beacon Hill with an overall legislative package on voting.