BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts voters will for the first time be able to cast ballots early in a presidential primary — a move that may help boost turnout.
Residents will be able to start voting as early as Feb. 24 and continue early voting through Feb. 28. No excuse is required to cast an early vote.
Massachusetts is one of more than a dozen states that hold their presidential primaries on March 3 — so-called Super Tuesday.
Early votes can be cast in at least one location in cities or towns across the state during the regular business hours of local election officials. Cities and towns can also choose to have expanded hours and locations.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat, said early voting is particularly popular among older and suburban voters — and can help ease crowding at polling locations on Election Day.
Limiting early voting to just five days can also help voters avoid a situation where the candidate they vote for early might drop out before Primary Day. In that case, voters cannot vote again.
"My hope is that it's going to help us have a smoother election," Galvin said of the early voting days.
Galvin said he expects a healthy turnout — not just because there are three candidates from Massachusetts on the ballot, but because of the vigorous support Republican President Donald Trump has among his supporters even in a state that typically leans Democratic in the general election.
Democrat Hillary Clinton handily beat Trump in Massachusetts in 2016.
"The turnout is going to be primarily driven by how intense the political fight is going to be," Galvin said of the primary contests.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Gov. Deval Patrick are on the Democratic primary ballot in Massachusetts. Former Gov. William Weld is challenging Trump on the Republican primary ballot.
Massachusetts first allowed early voting during the general election in November of 2016. It proved enormously popular with more than 1 million individuals casting ballots out of a total of nearly 3.4 million cast. In the 2018 general election, more than 20% of ballots were cast early.
One of the highest early voting turnouts in 2018 came in Eastham on Cape Cod where nearly 47% of votes where cast ahead of Election Day.
There are more than 4.4 million registered voters in Massachusetts. The majority — more than 55% — are not enrolled in any political party.
The highest turnout in a presidential primary in Massachusetts came during the 2016 primary when more than 44% of voters cast ballots.
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford said the party's official platform calls for early voting in all elections.
"Allowing people to vote early in this critical election will absolutely increase turnout, which should be a bipartisan goal," said Bickford.
Massachusetts is playing catch-up on the early voting front.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow any qualified voter to cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. No excuse or justification is required.
Absentee ballots will continue to be available for Massachusetts voters who can't physically get to the polls on March 3. Absentee ballots are available sooner than early ballots.
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