By Matt Murphy State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Secretary of State William Galvin projects that a record 3.2 million Massachusetts residents could head to the polls today with intense interest in the presidential and U.S. Senate races driving participation.
Galvin said his office has concerns about long lines at the polls, and said any effort by campaigns to interfere with privacy rights of voters would “not be tolerated.”
Massachusetts voters during the 2008 presidential election set a record in the state for votes cast at 3.1 million and marked the highest voting percentage, at 73.5 percent, since the 1996 presidential election year when 75.1 percent of registered voters turned out.
The greatest participation rate in Massachusetts dating back to 1948 is still the 1960 presidential contest won by John F. Kennedy when 2.5 million residents voted, or 91.7 percent, according to Galvin’s office.
During a press conference at the State House, Galvin said 284,789 voters had requested absentee ballots this election, an increase of about 25,000 from 2008, while the number of active voters had declined by about 40,000 people.
Galvin attributed the changes to less voter registration intensity than in 2008, but greater interest in absentee voting due to publicity in other states about early voting. Massachusetts does not allow early voting, which Galvin described as “absentee voting without the excuses.”
One of Galvin’s main concerns is the potential that voting delays when inactive voters — those who may be registered and eligible but have not voted recently or responded to Census surveys — turn out and need to show identification and fill out affidavits attesting to their eligibility. He has advised clerks to form two lines for active and inactive voters, but stressed that everyone who shows up to a polling place before 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote even if voting goes past that hour.
“Because of the intensity of this election, especially the United States Senate race here in Massachusetts, and the active interest of the campaign organizations which has been demonstrated to our citizens very thoroughly over the last few weeks, we are particularly concerned about conduct in the polling places,” Galvin said.
Galvin vowed to “enforce rigorously” the prohibition on campaigning within 150 feet of polling locations, and said poll observers from campaigns and interest groups would be monitored to prevent interference with the voting process.
“We further expect those in the position representing campaigns as observers will just do that — observe. Any effort to interfere with voting will not be tolerated,” Galvin said.
Galvin said his office will have a toll-free hotline, 1-800-462-VOTE, to report voting problems.