State Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) and Rep. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge) recently joined their legislative colleagues in passing a bill that expands voter access and ensures safe voting options for all remaining 2020 elections, including the Sept. 1 state primary and the Nov.3 general election. The bill, An Act relative to voting options in response to Covid-19, was signed into law by the governor July 6.
For the first time in state history, the legislation establishes a vote-by-mail option and early voting period for the upcoming fall elections. It also addresses polling-place safety for those who choose to cast their ballots in person.
“As we continue to address the Covid-19 pandemic, we must ensure that Massachusetts voters can safely cast their ballot in our upcoming elections without risking exposure to the virus,” Friedman said in a July 8 news release. “This historic bill expands voting options to do just that, strengthening our democracy and promoting voter participation this fall. I’d like to thank my colleagues in the Senate and House for their hard work on this important bill.”
"Expanding early voting options and integrating voting by mail will help increase participation in our elections and vastly improve our democratic process," said Garballey. "I was pleased to be able to work with my colleagues on this essential legislation. Making sure that ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted, and shortening the voter registration deadline from 20 days to 10 days prior to the election, are two aspects of the legislation I worked on that profoundly improves the legislation."
“Once again, in these difficult days, the Legislature has acted to address a key need of our communities. Despite this challenging era, the new election law allows our precious democratic process to move forward so that we all can cast our ballots safely. By allowing mail-in voting, early voting and in-person voting on Election Day, we have offered all options so that voters can choose one that best suits their needs. On behalf of the residents of Arlington, I offer my heartfelt thanks in advance to Town Clerk Juli Brazile, who will implement these significant changes,” Rogers said in the release.
To protect the vote in the fall 2020 elections, the legislation:
Implements a system for voting early by mail. An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15. The Secretary will then mail another application for the general election by Sept. 14. Both applications and ballots will have postage costs already paid.
Ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by Friday, Nov. 6, at 5 p.m. Completed applications for early voting and absentee voting must be received four business days before the election (i.e. Wednesday, Aug. 26, for the primary election and Wednesday, Oct. 28, for the general election).
Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods. For the first time in Massachusetts history, early voting will be available for the state primary. It will take place from Saturday, Aug. 22, through Friday, Aug. 28. Early voting for the general election is scheduled from Tuesday, Oct. 17, to Friday, Oct. 30.
Makes in-person voting safer and more efficient. The bill allows municipalities, with proper notice, to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers. It also expands who is eligible to serve as a poll worker, knowing that many current volunteers are seniors who may feel less comfortable working in public during Covid-19.
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. The legislation allows for tabulating ballots prior to election day, and it offers preaddressed envelopes to voters, so their applications go directly to their clerk’s office.
Tasks the Secretary of the Commonwealth with creating an online portal and promoting voting options. To make it as easy as possible for people to apply for general election early voting, the bill requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal not later than Oct. 1. Electronic applications for early voting will be available for the general election, and if feasible, for the primary election as well.
The bill also requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth to conduct a public awareness campaign to inform and notify voters of the many options available to them for casting a vote in the upcoming 2020 elections.
This news announcement was published Thursday, July 9, 2020.