After Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office was a no-show last week at Councilor Lydia Edwards’s critical Council hearing on how voting will take place this year, Edwards said she was “disgusted” and called on Galvin or his office to guide the counsel in some fashion going forward.
Edwards said they will have future working sessions to plan for how voting will take place in September, but especially in November, given the need to social distance and likely expand the absentee voting program. She hopes that, at a minimum, Galvin might send them a communication.
“I was disgusted,” she said. “It simply was him totally dismissing the City Council and our conversation and the fact Boston was looking to him for guidance and he would rather give us none. I would hope at a minimum he can send a written statement. A message by Morse Code over telegraph, even a carrier pigeon would work. Send us an e-mail, anything to demonstrate he [cares].”
Voting will be a tricky measure in November, and in the September Primary election, and the Boston Election Commission told Edwards’s committee they are in favor of an expanded absentee voting program. However, they aren’t going to simply mail ballots to everyone. As a compromise, the plan is to send out applications for absentee ballots to everyone in Boston. If the application is returned, and a voter is vetted, they can vote absentee by mail through the normal absentee system. However, that system works by needing a medical or travel excuse and the Council needs Galvin’s office to endorse a system where such excuses are waived for absentee ballots.
“All eyes are on the State House now – period,” said Edwards. “Boston has at least committed to sending out applications for absentee voting to everyone…We need the state to remove the excuse requirement for absentee ballots…In Boston, it’s about being safe and having access to the ballot. There should be a balance so people who want to go to the polls to vote – it should be safe for them to go and for the poll workers to provide ballots.”
Edwards said the hearing – which was online – was called to make sure the City doesn’t end up scrambling for a system late in the game – as was done in Wisconsin. She said Tuesday featured two special elections in Massachusetts and both worked out well with an absentee and in-person system – with most using the absentee mail-in method to vote.
She said getting Boston’s system right is critical for the state as a whole, which is why they had hoped Galvin would participate.
“We know the secretary is busy, but one in 10 votes in the state comes from the City of Boston,” she said. “If Boston is going to adjust voting, it has ripple effects across the state in many ways. We thought a demonstration of partnership and guidance from him in the conversation would be a good thing.”
Galvin and the Council have long been at odds, and particularly last year when former Councilor Josh Zakim ran against Galvin. During those debates, Galvin mocked the role of the Council a number of times – creating some bad blood between himself and the member.
Zba To Return In June, But What About The Reforms
Edwards said the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will begin meeting again in June, and there are several high-profile projects that will get dates before the ZBA this summer – including projects in Thompson Square and at the Grasshopper Restaurant.
Beyond that, Edwards said she is concerned about the numerous reforms she had proposed for the ZBA before COVID-19 that she said never were instituted. Now, with the resumption, she said she wonders what the ZBA has been doing all the time that it hasn’t been meeting if they haven’t been working on the reforms she had suggested, and Mayor Martin Walsh had required to be put in place.
What About Sidewalk/Street Seating At Restaurants?
As the ZBA resumes and restaurants prepare the long haul for re-opening their establishments, Edwards said she wanted to know what Charlestown thinks about sidewalk dining and closing off streets temporarily to help businesses.
Many in the North End, she said, had been vocal, but she was hoping to know what residents and restaurateurs were thinking in Charlestown.
Outdoor dining has been a major suggestion for re-opening restaurants as interior seating will be severely limited for some time, and having a summer outdoor option gives establishments more tables to conduct more business.
“There has to be a way,” she said. “There has to be a better option. They will never be at full occupancy until the governor says they can be, but we have to save the restaurants…There are no absolute ways, but we need a balance.”