By the terms of new legislation approved this past Tuesday in the State Senate, every eligible Massachusetts resident will have the option of voting by mail, a history-making first. The bill, which passed unanimously, comes amid widespread safety concerns about in-person voting during the pandemic.
The legislation applies to both the September 1st state primary and the November 3rd general election.
“It was disturbing to see in-person voting produce chaos in Wisconsin,” said local State Senator Mike Barrett. “People had to risk getting sick to cast a ballot. For us, in Massachusetts, revamping elections almost overnight has not been without its problems. But we’ve adapted and gotten the job done.”
The Massachusetts bill contains a number of provisions, including:
- Implements an early vote-by-mail system: An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary and general election will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15th. Both applications and ballots will be postage-paid.
- Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods: For the first time in Massachusetts, early voting will be available for the state primary, to take place from Saturday, August 22nd through Friday, August 28th. Early voting for the general election would take place from Saturday, October 17th to Friday, October 30th. Early voting hours would vary according to the size of the municipality in order to give voters ample opportunity to participate while not overburdening the election departments of small towns.
- Tasks the Secretary of State with creating an online portal: The bill requires Secretary Galvin to create an online portal so that voters can request an early or absentee ballot electronically. It must be operational by October 1st, in time for the general election.
- Ensures early voting options for voters with disabilities: The bill charges Secretary Galvin with providing options for voters who require an accommodation.
- Expands absentee voting: The bill provides for absentee voting by any person taking precautions related to COVID-19. Voters will also be able return absentee ballots via a secure drop box, in addition to the in-person and by mail submission options available for past elections.
- Provides tools to assist clerks: Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill provides for several accommodations to make the logistics of processing votes easier.
- Makes in-person voting more efficient: The bill allows municipalities to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers.
The Senate bill must now be reconciled with similar legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Legislators do not expect the differences to be difficult to reconcile.