BOSTON — Early voting for the November election gets underway this weekend, giving voters a chance to avoid long lines at polling stations on Election Day amid lingering concerns over the coronavirus.
Secretary of State Bill Galvin said every city and town will have at least one early voting station available during regular business hours, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, from Oct. 17 to 30. He said the 14 days of pre-election balloting gives voters plenty of options to avoid crowds.
"Because of voter enthusiasm, the first day of early voting is often the busiest day," Galvin said in a statement. "If you want to vote at a time when there will be fewer people around, weekday voting is also available."
In the Nov. 3. elections, Massachusetts voters will pick a president and U.S. senator while deciding two statewide ballot questions and a host of congressional and state races. The contentious race between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden is expected to drive a record turnout.
Galvin estimates overall turnout will exceed 3.3 million, including about 1 million people who are expected to vote on Election Day.
Nearly 30% of the state's 4.5 million registered voters have already cast ballots.
As of Friday, nearly 1.7 million mail-in ballots had been sent to voters who requested them, and 480,000 had been submitted to local election clerks, according to Galvin's office.
Early voting, which was first introduced in Massachusetts ahead of the 2016 presidential election, has grown increasingly popular as it has been expanded.
During the Sept. 1 state primary, which saw a record turnout of more than 1.7 million voters, about 100,000 ballots were cast early.
"What we've seen, particularly during the outbreak, is voters are clearly taking advantage of these expanded options to vote early or by mail," said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, a non-partisan group that works on voter outreach. "It's only a minority of voters who come out on Election Day."
Galvin said election officials are taking precautions to keep voters safe, with a number of "high-risk" communities such as Lawrence and Methuen seeing upticks in COVID-19 cases.
Early voting locations are required to be set up with enough space for social distancing. Election workers will wear masks and protective equipment, and limit crowding inside voting locations. Workers will keep surfaces and equipment sanitized.
Information about early voting locations can be found here: www.MassEarlyVote.com.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com