At least 15 Massachusetts municipalities held preliminary elections this week, including Boston, which winnowed its historic field of mayoral candidates to two: Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George. For the first time, all Boston voters could choose to vote by mail or bring ballots to drop boxes across the city. That caused a delay in election results, leading to a confusing election night in which some candidates gave acceptance and concession speeches before the city released official results.

Bill Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth, said that although the media was unhappy with the delay, it was ultimately a good thing for voter access and transparency.

“When you make it easier for voters, you get a greater administrative burden,” he told host Sean Corcoran on Morning Edition Thursday. “This is about the convenience of the voters: vote by mail works.”

So, what took so long? Galvin said collecting the 7,000 ballots received at drop boxes took time. His office supervises elections across the state, and Boston presents more of a challenge because of its large pool of voters.

Plus, officials can’t start officially counting ballots until the polls close at 8 p.m. “You do not want partial results out on the street while voting is still going on,” Galvin said.

On Monday, Galvin advised voters not to rely on the Postal Service, and instead find a drop box to submit their ballot. After collecting the ballots, election officials went through a reconciliation process, meaning they had to make sure any mail-in ballots were not being cast by someone who had voted in person.

That extra step ensured election integrity and transparency, and was also a defense against some of the polarized attacks against voting by mail, which intensified around the 2020 election.

“At a time when, with ruthless efficiency, Republicans across the country are cutting back on voters rights, we put voters rights first here in Massachusetts and we have made it work,” Galvin said. “The fact that it takes time, where we have to be thorough, or it's more administratively burdensome or more expensive doesn't matter. The most important thing is the rights of the voters to participate.”

Some in the media wondered why the candidates themselves had results before the city and were able to give acceptance or concession speeches. Galvin said the campaigns likely had representatives at polling locations across Boston and had a sense of how voters were voting in precincts.

"This is about the convenience of the voters: vote by mail works."
Sec. Bill Galvin

Moving forward, Galvin said his office is looking into administrative changes and adding more workers. Yesterday, the City Council passed an ordinanceto help voters for whom paying for postage was a burden. If signed by acting Mayor Kim Janey, it would send pre-paid envelopes to voters who wanted to vote by mail.

Galvin said the ongoing problem is not necessarily the financial burden of a measure like that, but the timing of mail-in ballots. “The Postal Service — and we knew this last year, but it’s only gotten worse since — is unable to operate within a three- or four-day window with certainty,” Galvin said.

Another idea Galvin said he is exploring for November is providing more time to send in ballots, as long as they are postmarked by election day, the same process they use for military ballots.

Even if that means later results, Galvin isn’t fazed. “While I can be sympathetic to the media’s concerns about trying to get prompt results, frankly, it’s not as important as getting the rights of the voters protected and making sure the integrity of the election is defended,” he said.