Elected officials in the largest city in western Massachusetts are the latest to call for a safer option for voting in the state this year.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a resolution calling for a vote-by-mail option for the September primaries and November general election.
Introduced by City Councilor Adam Gomez, the resolution urged the Massachusetts legislature to act quickly to approve a vote-by-mail program so that people can exercise their right to vote without fear of exposure to a deadly virus.
"Vote-by-mail has become a gold standard for voter access and participation," said Gomez.
Gomez, who has announced a campaign to challenge State Senator James Welch in the September 1st Democratic primary, enlisted all 12 of his colleagues on the City Council as co-sponsors.
Several bills have been filed on Beacon Hill to create alternatives to in-person voting this year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. One, sponsored by western Massachusetts State Senators Adam Hines and Eric Lesser and endorsed by a coalition of voter rights groups, would require a ballot be mailed to every registered voter.
Five members of the state’s all-Democratic Congressional delegation have called for voting-by-mail in this year’s election.
City Councilor Orlando Ramos recounted seeing firsthand how vote-by-mail worked during a visit to Colorado in 2018.
"It was amazing," said Ramos. "The way people were voting in Denver that day was the most convenient way I could imagine people being able to vote."
Voting-by-mail is an idea whose time has come, said City Councilor Kateri Walsh.
"I think Springfield and Massachusetts should be leaders in getting people to vote," said Walsh.
The City Council meeting was conducted remotely on a video conferencing platform. Councilors voted to approve nearly two dozen financial items.
More than $6.5 million in grant awards from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were accepted including the city’s annual allotment under the Community Development Block Grant program, which this year totaled almost $4 million.
Although the grant application process started last fall, and most of the money has been assigned to specific projects and programs, some might be used to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, said Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s chief development official.
He said the city is looking to use some federal grant money to create a rent and mortgage assistance fund once the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends.
"Our primary goal is to keep people in the housing they have and ensure the housing stock is stabilized," Sheehan said.
The city is already committed to using $800,000 of the federal funds for a first-time homebuyers program and to do emergency rehabilitations of blighted houses.