The American ideal of self-government can only work if voting is safe, accessible and honest. That tenet is particularly important in our virus-infected discontent.

Massachusetts recently approved a law that makes it easy for all registered voters to cast ballots by mail this year. 

Under the measure, the secretary of state’s office will mail every voter a mail-ballot application for both the September 1st primary and the November 3rd general election, which this year includes a consequential presidential election. The state has also expanded early voting to reduce lines at the polls.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin says these changes will allow voters to safely participate in our democracy.

By contrast, Rhode Island has not adopted new rules yet. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, like Galvin a Democrat, is seeking support for some changes to make voting easier and safer. She is seeking early voting and, for the general election, mailing all voters a mail ballot application - similar to Massachusetts.

But so far, Gorbea has not come out for mailing ballot applications to all voters for the September primaries. Her rationale is that there are no primary contests in many legislative districts. So only postcards informing voters of the upcoming primaries will be sent. The postcards would give instructions on how to apply for a mail ballot. Gorbea says this would save money.

This may seem a small difference from the Massachusetts approach. It isn’t. As John Marion of Common Cause of Rhode Island says, it reeks of incumbency protection.

State lawmakers don’t like primaries. Rhode Island, like Massachusetts, is largely a one-party Democratic state when it comes to the legislature.

Just think about how difficult it will be for a challenger to contest an incumbent this year. The persistence of the virus means none of the effective and low-cost campaign methods widely used by General Assembly candidates. No door-to-door campaigning, no coffee klatches, no Danish for voters in elderly high-rises. Shaking hands at the St. Rocco’s feast is out, as well as those ubiquitous spaghetti and meatball meet-the-candidate times. It will be harder for challengers not connected to Assembly leadership and their lobbyist-fueled campaign coffers to raise money.

The September primaries in Rhode Island are crucial, even if the state doesn’t have a marquee race, as does Massachusetts with the Joe Kennedy-Ed Markey U.S. Senate joust.

Because the Rhode Island Republican Party is anemic at the local level in so many districts, the Democratic primary often determines who wins Assembly seats. It’s the Assembly that convenes in January that will set the rules for the once in a decade redistricting of the House and Senate. For way too long, Rhode Island has drawn districts to protect incumbents -- the State House leadership and their insider deal-makers. There are also important primaries across the state for town and city councils, school committees and mayors.

The Massachusetts legislature has already debated and approved the new election regime. The irony here is that Rhode Island did the right thing in the June presidential primary in which very little was at stake. There was no real contest; both Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic challenger, former vice-president Joe Biden, had already wrapped up their nominations.

But more than 100,000 voters --83 percent of the total votes cast--chose to vote by mail. It wasn’t perfect. Thousands of mail ballots that were sent out didn’t arrive in time to be counted. But it was strong evidence that voters preferred the safety of mail voting rather than risk their health at an in-person precinct.

New England has done a better job than many, many other regions in containing Covid 19. Yet we don’t know what the future holds. Sending postcards rather than actual mail ballot applications seems both cumbersome and straight from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Let’s not add voting to public schools, economic development, and affordable housing--things Massachusetts has long done better than Rhode Island.