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As the September Massachusetts state primary and the November presidential election approach, Cambridge officials say they are working to address residents' concerns about the security and safety of voting amid the pandemic and growing controversies surrounding the United States Postal Service.
Last week, the Postal Service sent letters to 46 states, including Massachusetts, warning it cannot guarantee that all mail-in ballots for the November election will be delivered in time to be counted. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a statement Tuesday announcing the Postal Service is prepared to “handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall” and will suspend any planned cutbacks to the mail service until after the November election is concluded.
As concerns regarding the security and speed of the U.S. Postal Service mount — complicated by health and safety worries related to the coronavirus pandemic — officials in Cambridge have taken extra steps to ensure every vote is counted.
Cambridge City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler said the pandemic had already impacted the typical plan for voting, noting that the city’s Election Commission has enacted measures to move polling places from “high-risk locations.”
“The pandemic has definitely affected voting and how we think about it considerably and not wanting to have long lines of people and enclosed spaces to potentially transmit COVID,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said.
Cambridge Vice-Mayor Alanna M. Mallon said the City has taken several measures to address residents' concerns about both the pandemic and the reliability of the Postal Service, including offering a dropbox for those who wish to submit their ballots without having to mail them. Mallon said there is a dropbox located at 51 Inman Street and staffed by a poll worker from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in addition to dropboxes at all of the City's early voting locations.
“Both our city leadership and our public health department and our election commission really feel that during the pandemic, voting by mail is the safest way to reduce transmission, while at the same time exercising your right to vote,” she said. “For the September 1 primary we have created a dropbox for residents if they don't want to mail in their ballots.”
Mallon also said the City has ordered five outdoor dropboxes for the general election in November.
Some Cambridge residents took to social media to warn their neighborhoods about the potential delays with mail-in ballots.
One resident, Loren Crowe, wrote on Twitter that it took his ballot six days to go two miles across the city by mail. He urged residents who are planning to mail in their ballots to allow themselves a week for shipping or drop off their ballots in person.
Mallon said residents can drop off their ballots without coming into contact with other people at three early voting locations — the Moses Youth Center, the Cambridge Water Department, and the Valente Library — starting August 22 through August 28.
“If you have your ballot, you can go into any of those three [early voting] locations and pop your ballot right into the box,” Mallon said. “You don't even have to really be in there very long if you feel uncomfortable being indoors around other people.”
“We're really, really taking this seriously — not only making sure that everyone's ballots are counted but that we're keeping our residents safe from COVID-19 during the pandemic,” she added.
Sobrinho-Wheeler said he will likely submit his vote at one of the dropbox locations.
“I submitted my ballot application myself more than two weeks ago now and still haven't gotten my ballot,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said. “When I get it, I think I'm gonna fill it out and take it to the dropbox, because I don't trust that if I put it in the mail that it will get there in time for September 1.”
Other residents said they are not as concerned. Robert Winters, a mathematics instructor at the Harvard Extension School and MIT and editor of a blog on Cambridge politics, said in an interview that he is not particularly worried about mail-in ballots in Cambridge.
“I don't have any particular concerns about the mail-in balloting,” he said. “I may have concerns about that in other states — swing states, for example — but in Massachusetts, it's not a great concern to me.”
“For anybody who wants to vote by mail but has concerns about the post office, they have a couple of great options,” he added, referencing the dropbox locations and early voting option.
Mallon said it is important to ensure every vote gets counted for the upcoming elections, this year in particular.
“It's the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which afforded some women the right to vote,” Mallon said. “These rights have been hard fought by many members of our communities, whether they're women, whether they're members of our Black community or indigenous people community.”
“We need to ensure that everyone has the right to vote this November and September,” she added.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.
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