How a Smooth Election in Massachusetts Could Be a Cautionary Tale

Acknowledging problems in the Massachusetts election, Pamela Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, nevertheless attributed the high primary turnout to the state’s shift toward voting by mail.

“Compared to the problems we’ve seen in other states, it really was a relatively smaller percentage of the voters that faced these issues,” she said, adding that Massachusetts had benefited from a decline in coronavirus infection rates. Partly as a result, she said, “we did not experience a poll worker shortage.”

Among the problems that surfaced, some voters in Medford did not receive the correct envelopes for returning their mail ballots. “It was an inconvenience,” said one voter, Elizabeth Schwartz, who kept waiting for a replacement the town had promised, then finally went to the polls on Tuesday when it did not arrive.

But by and large, the state’s history of smooth elections could have helped avoid any widespread problems, according to Dr. Stewart, with both voters and election administrators very good at navigating the tedium of voting.

“The political environment is very noncompetitive,” he said. “It’s not like people are waiting around to see the results in elections where supporters hate each other. This is not the high-stakes, high-profile, high-energy, high-vitriol environment that you’re seeing in the rest of the country.”

Looking at the Massachusetts primary is informative, he said, because it reveals what happens “if a state is just allowed to run its election and try to do the right things in terms of public administration and in terms of being responsive to public opinion. Dr. Stewart added, “There are some hiccups, some delays, both in mailing the ballots and counting. But they’re so far not tragic, not debilitating in the process.”

Ms. McReynolds also pointed to an online ballot tracking system that Massachusetts set up this year, which allowed voters to track the status of their ballots and allowed them to be proactive if any problems arose.