Most of the Massachusetts citizens expected to participate in Tuesday's state primary contests have already cast their ballots, and despite added burdens on local clerks from an atypical influx of mail-in votes, the outcomes should still be known by Wednesday morning, Secretary of State William Galvin said.
"I think we all know this has been an extraordinary year for virtually everything about our lives, and elections are no different," Galvin, the state's elections overseer, said at a State House press conference. "We're having an election tomorrow, I think under the most unusual circumstances."
On the eve of a primary election in which ways to participate have been reshaped around the COVID-19 pandemic, Galvin provided a turnout forecast — he expects 1.2 million to 1.3 million votes, once all are tallied — and laid out the ground rules for voters.
The ballots will feature U.S. Senate races on both the Democratic and Repubilcan sides, a seven-way Democratic primary for the Congressional seat that U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III is giving up to challenge Sen. Ed Markey, and challenges to sitting members of Congress Richard Neal, Stephen Lynch and Seth Moulton. There is also a Republican primary for the Fourth Congressional District seat now held by Kennedy.
Though many seats on Beacon Hill are uncontested, there are a handful of primary challenges in the state Legislature, and seven open House seats where no Republicans are on the ballot will be effectively decided by Democratic primaries.
Galvin said some local races have generated interest in the primaries, as well as awareness of the coming Nov. 3 presidential election — 63 days away, as of Monday.
A law passed earlier this year expanded vote-by-mail opportunities and created an early voting period ahead of the Sept. 1 election, the first time early voting has been used for a state primary. About 180,000 people cast ballots in-person during last week's early voting window, Galvin said.
Voters can visit Galvin's website to see if their polling location has been changed, or to track the status of their mail-in ballot. If the website shows that a person's mail-in ballot has not been received by local election officials, that person may choose to vote in person on Election Day, Galvin said.
He said that voters should not bring completed mail-in ballots to a polling place on Tuesday but can still deliver them to their town or city halls and local dropboxes. Galvin said election officials have gone to "extraordinary lengths" to make sure voters can visit their polling places in-person without risking their health.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. statewide. For a mail-in ballot to be counted, the voter's local election office must receive it by 8 p.m. Tuesday, a deadline recently affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court.
Someone whose mail-in ballot has already been accepted will not be able to vote in person. If a mail-in ballot arrives Tuesday, and the voter has already cast an in-person ballot, the mailed one will not be counted.
Galvin said the various administrative pieces required to make sure one person's vote is not counted multiple times have been playing over in his head.
"Some people wake up with weird dreams," he said. "I have to dream about that."
No ballots will be counted before 8 p.m Tuesday. Galvin said the counting process will place additional strain on local clerks this year and may be slower than usual but "should not prevent us from getting final results, hopefully, by Wednesday morning."
"I'm hopeful that it's not going to delay the process in any extraordinary way," he said. "It is more complicated, it is very cumbersome because we have a great amount of paper that's already been received."
As of Monday morning, more than 768,000 Democratic ballots and more than 88,000 Republican ballots had been cast, Galvin said. He projected another 250,000 Democratic voters and 50,000 or more Republican voters will visit polling places in-person Tuesday, for a total turnout of more than 1.2 million on the Democratic side and 150,000 for the GOP.
Galvin, a Boston Democrat, is among those who plan to vote in person, during a 9:30 a.m. swing through the Thomas A. Edison Middle School in Brighton.
As of February, there were about 4.58 million voters registered in Massachusetts, including 1.49 million Democrats, 462,586 Republicans, and 2.56 million unenrolled voters.
Primary turnout of 1.3 million voters would mean about 28 percent of registered voters participated. That would be the highest turnout since 1992, when 30.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the primaries.
Generally, Galvin said, fewer than 1 million votes are cast in a state primary election. During the presidential primary in March, 1.4 million Democratic ballots were completed, a comparison he said illustrates the level of interest in Tuesday's contests.
Turnout hit nearly 22 percent in the last state primary, in 2018, and achieved a high of 50 percent in 1990, when 1.55 million voters cast ballots. It was about 26 percent in both 2002 and 2006, with more than 1 million votes cast in each of those years, according to figures from Galvin's office. In 2016, the most recent presidential election year, the state primary turnout was under 9 percent.
The organization MassVOTE is organizing phone banks on Tuesday in a final push to get out the vote in traditionally low-turnout areas like the cities of Boston, Worcestser, Springfield and Lowell.
Galvin said Monday that mail-in ballots have so far come in more from suburban and rural areas and less from cities.