The City Council is considering a proposal by the Boston Elections Department to hold the September preliminary elections for mayor and city councilor on Sept. 14, rather than Sept. 21, which would give more time for voters to apply for and return mail-in ballots for the November final elections - assuming the state allows for widespread mail-in voting again this year.
Without the extra week, Elections Commissioner Eneida Tavares told a city-council committee today, various deadlines will make it tough to give voters enough time to apply for and return the ballots - just three weeks if the preliminary were on Sept. 21.
She said her department can't begin the process of printing final ballots until a minimum of six days after the preliminary, because state law gives preliminary candidates that much time to contest results - and because the city would also have to hold a drawing to determine the order of candidates on the ballot. And then it would have to get the ballot information to its printer and that company would then have to get the completed ballots back to the city for distribution, she said.
And at a hearing that included at-large Councilor Julia Mejjia, who won her council seat in 2019 by 1 vote after a recount, Tavares added that schedule hinges on nobody appealing their preliminary results - a recount could tighten the schedule even more.
But Councilor Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain), who is not running for re-election this year, said that long term, the city could avoid all these preliminary scheduling issues - and issues related to the Jewish holidays, which have come up in the past - by moving the preliminary elections to the spring, similar to the way the state runs elections for elected federal positions.
O'Malley predicted the move would not only end scheduling issues but help increase participation.
Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill) said she was a bit hesitant to move the preliminary election date to just a week after Labor Day, because , Boston voters often pay relatively little attention to municipal elections until after Labor Day, and that this fall, with more and more people vaccinated, candidates would need the extra time to do the shoe-leather politicking of getting to know voters at their doors.
Tavares said that, in the worst case, the Elections Department "will make elections work as we always do."
City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale) asked why the city couldn't move the final election further into November to allow for more time. Tavares said that, unlike moving the preliminary date, moving the final election would require an act of the state legislature.
Although Tavares and councilors praised mail-in voting last year for the way it increased turnout, nobody suggested moving Boston municipal elections, which traditionally have low turnout, to even-numbered years along with state and federal elections.