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March Special Elections In Massachusetts Postponed

a map of a state senate district in western Massachusetts
Massachusetts legislature

   Elections are being postponed in Massachusetts because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Four special elections that had been scheduled for March 31st to fill vacancies in the Massachusetts legislature—two House seats and two Senate seats—have been delayed.

   The special election for the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire seat last held by Westfield Mayor Don Humason will take place on May 19.  

   Squaring off are Democrat John Velis, a current member of the Massachusetts House from Westfield, and Republican John Cain, a small business owner from Southwick.  

    The district consists of the cities of Westfield and Holyoke and a part of Chicopee and the towns of Agawam, Granville, Montgomery, Russell, Southwick and Tolland in Hampden County along with Easthampton and Southampton in Hampshire County.

     Humason, a Republican who represented the district in the Senate since 2013, resigned when he was sworn in as the Westfield mayor on January 6th.

    Velis said he stopped door-to-door campaigning and canceled “meet and greets” about two weeks ago as more-and-more aggressive steps were starting to be taken to try to curb the spread of the virus, but he hoped then the election would still take place as scheduled.

    "My initial take a few weeks ago was that I wanted the election to proceed, but now a decision has been made based on the facts on the ground from the people who do this for a living, so you respect the decision and move on," said Velis.

    Cain had also hoped the special election would still be held, but he said peoples’ health comes first.

    "I had put a lot of effort in the campaign, " said Cain.  "I am disappointed that the election has been postponed."

    Plans are to continue the virtual campaigning on Facebook, but Cain said he hopes to get back to face-to-face meetings with voters before the May 19th election.

   "The best thing is to be with someone face-to-face and really understand what they are looking for and need from their legislature," said Cain. "For now, we are doing it online and over the phone and its the best we can do at this point."

    Velis said the majority of his time is now spent taking phone calls from constituents looking for help with such things as obtaining health insurance or signing up for unemployment benefits.   

   " I would not say that I per se suspended my campaign, but I can tell you that 100 percent of my energy and resources right now are going into being the state representative from the 4th Hampden District and trying to help out  my constituents in anyway I can," said Velis.  " That is why I got into public service; to help other people, and that is what I am going to do right now."

    The decision by the Massachusetts legislature to put the special elections on hold reignites long-running discussions about taking down barriers to voter participation, according to Janet Domenitz , executive director of MassPIRG.

    She called for the legislature to enact “no-excuse” absentee voting and election-day voter registration.

     "We can already see what ever the duration of this crisis is we will be preoccupied with so many things in our lives that are getting pushed off and postponed and will need to be delt with, and having that tool ready for November 2020 ( same-day registration) would free up concerns that more people will be left out of the  process," said Domenitz.

     Lawmakers also sent Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would allow towns to postpone local elections that are scheduled on various dates this spring.  It included language that would allow for early voting by mail for any annual municipal or special state election held on or before June 30, 2020.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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