By Bob Katzen
The Senate 40-0, approved a bill that would provide registered voters three options to cast a ballot in the September 1 primary and November 3 general election including extended early voting periods, voting in-person on Election Day and voting-by-mail. The House has already approved its own version of the bill. Last week, a six-member conference committee made up of three senators and three representatives was appointed to hammer out a compromise version that would pass both branches.
The Senate measure requires an application for a voter to request an early voting ballot for the September 1 primary election to be mailed by Secretary of State Bill Galvin to all registered voters by July 15, 2020. Galvin will then mail a separate application to vote by mail in the General Election along with the voter booklet sent out in the fall.
Another key provision allows early voting for the September 1 primary to take place from Saturday, August 22 through Friday, August 28. Early voting for the November 3 general election would be available from Tuesday, October 17 to Friday, October 30.
The measure also expands absentee voting by allowing any person taking precautions related to COVID-19 to vote absentee via secure drop boxes that will provide a sanitary drop-off method.
Other provisions impose safety measures to be taken at the polls to prevent the spread of the virus to voters and poll workers; allow cities and towns to count vote totals prior to Election Day, provide pre-addressed envelopes for voters to return their applications for an early ballot; requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal by October 1, 2020 to take some burden off the city and town clerk’s offices and make it as easy as possible for people to apply for General Election early voting ballots electronically.
“Our goal with this legislation was to make it easier for people to exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote during these unprecedented times,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), the Senate chair of the Election Laws Committee. “This is the first time in the history of the commonwealth that we are offering early voting for primaries, sending out applications to vote by mail and counting ballots after Election Day.”
MassVOTE Executive Director Cheryl Clyburn Crawford said while the organization is disappointed that voters will not automatically receive ballots this fall, she applauds the Senate for passing the legislation. “This Fall’s elections will undoubtedly prove challenging,” said Crawford. “Nevertheless, we believe the Senate bill passed today will provide local election officials the tools they need to run our elections this fall, while allowing voters to cast their ballot in a safe, secure manner.”
“The elections bill passed today is a historic step that dramatically increases voting access in our commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill would allow voters, for the first time, to cast ballots by mail, vote early and safely vote in person—allowing residents to safely exercise their important right to vote during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate has always championed greater participation in our democracy, and I am proud that ideas we’ve originated over the years are contained in this bill.”