By Bob Katzen
The Senate 16-23, rejected an amendment that would replace a provision in the bill that requires Secretary Galvin, in conjunction with the Department of Public Health, to establish regulations requiring public health safeguards at early voting sites and polling places. The safeguards include requiring the distancing of voters and election officers, frequent use of sanitizers, appropriate clothing and the use of marking pens.
The amendment includes many more specific details and ultimately allows cities and towns to make the final decision on what safeguards it wants to impose. The amendment includes requiring Galvin to provide comprehensive guidance to municipalities on designing polling locations to ensure six-foot physical distancing throughout the voting process; proper signage in and outside of the polling site; implement curbside voting for voters with physical or health limitations; establish a statewide volunteer portal so that all municipalities have adequate poll workers; planning for volunteer poll worker shortages and outreach, recruitment, and training of additional and reserve poll workers to ensure that the burden of administering the in-person election does not fall on older and vulnerable poll workers at greater risk to COVID-19.
Another key detailed provision requires the guidance to include protection of poll workers with personal protective equipment, adequate access to cleaning supplies throughout the day, access to hand-washing and bathrooms with adequate soap, water and disposable paper towels and other public health measures to protect poll workers and voters from the spread of coronavirus.
“I filed this amendment to ensure that our city and town clerks and their staffs, voting registrars, and voters are as safe as possible, at the election polls,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), the sponsor of the amendment. “While voting by mail will surely increase as a result of the Legislature’s actions in this bill, if we truly consider voting as a right, the state should be providing as much guidance, personal protection equipment, enforcement of physical distancing, and no-contact options for people to vote this fall … [The] pandemic has already resulted in challenges for cities and towns to find more election volunteers [and] this volunteer portal will also better support our municipal election clerks.”
“[The bill itself] covered the majority of the concerns raised in [Sen. Eldridge’s amendment] … but in broader terms,” said Election Laws Committee chair Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) who was leading the charge for the bill. He noted that he already had commitments from Galvin to implement the rest of Eldridge’s amendment that was not in the bill.