Election Day got off to a smooth start in Massachusetts Tuesday, though some voters waited in long lines in Boston, and a small number of others faced administrative challenges at the polls, according to the state’s top election official.
"We've had minor administrative problems, but by and large, it's been a very successful morning so far,” Secretary of State William Galvin said, speaking to reporters around 10:30 a.m. shortly after casting his ballot.
A coalition of voter advocacy groups in Massachusetts also reported seeing relatively few election problems on Tuesday, though reports surfaced in Lawrence and at a polling place in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood that poll workers improperly asked voters for identification, according to Sophia Hall, supervising attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston.
At English High in Jamaica Plain, a volunteer working with the coalition reported seeing an election worker request ID to compare names against the voter rolls, Hall said. The worker appeared to be requesting ID from Latinos and people with accents, based on the volunteer's observation, Hall said.
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In Lawrence, three people contacted the coalition’s voter protection hotline on Tuesday morning to report they were asked to show ID at the polls with no explanation. The callers were each Latino, Hall said.
Massachusetts law permits poll workers to request ID in only limited circumstances, such as when a newly-registered voter is casting a ballot in Massachusetts for the first time, or if the voter is listed as inactive, meaning they haven’t responded to the local census in their town or city for two consecutive years, Hall said.
In Waltham, some voters were also asked for ID during early voting last week, though the city has now reversed the practice, Hall said.
The election protection coalition includes MassVOTE, Common Cause Massachusetts and the ACLU of Massachusetts. The groups trained some 2,000 volunteers to observe election activities in Massachusetts this fall. Volunteers were on the ground at polling sites in 15 cities Tuesday, including Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Lynn, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, Randolph, Brockton, Fall River, New Bedford and Worcester, Hall said.
The coalition fielded more than 200 calls to its voter hotline during the early hours of voting Tuesday, though most were from voters looking for more information — not reporting irregularities at the polls.
Some 3.6 million people are expected to vote in the Massachusetts election, surpassing previous turnout records. Many have already weighed in, choosing to vote early or mail in or drop off their ballots to avoid long lines amid the pandemic.
Nevertheless, some voters in Boston waited upwards of 40 minutes to cast their ballots after the polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday. As many as 175 people at a time were queued up during peak voting activity in some of the city’s busiest spots, including polling locations in Dorchester and Mattapan, Hall said.
"What we see in those particular areas today is unfortunately significantly long lines,” she said.
Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the massive expansion of mail-in balloting this year also caused some confusion at the polls. There have been a couple of reports of voters being improperly turned away in Lawrence because they previously requested a mail-in ballot, but chose to vote in person instead.
Voters are free to vote in person Tuesday, regardless of whether they requested a mail-in ballot, as long as their mail-in ballot has not been returned and accepted yet.
Galvin said his office was also notified of some minor "campaign conduct issues" in Boston, Lowell and West Boylston, but nothing that prevented people from voting or required intervention.
"It was more just people didn't understand the rules," Galvin said. "They didn't understand where they were supposed to be. If they were observers, they were there to observe and not interact with voters. Those things were quickly resolved."