By Bob Katzen
The House 155-1, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Governor Charlie Baker a bill that would direct Secretary of State Bill Galvin to send applications for a mail-in ballot to every registered voter by July 15 for the September 1 primary and by September 14 for the November 3 general election.
The bill also includes expanded in-person early voting options prior to the elections. Voters who wish to vote in person are given seven days (from August 22 to August 28) to vote early in the primary and 14 days (from October 17 to October 30) to vote early in the general election. Voters can also choose to vote on Election Day.
Other provisions provide pre-paid return postage for ballots and applications for ballots; set August 26 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the September 1 primary and October 28 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the November 3 general election; provide for absentee voting by any person taking precaution related to COVID-19; require Galvin, in conjunction with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, to establish emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and personal protective equipment, frequent use of sanitizers and sanitary use of marking pens.
“This bill is essential to the operation and integrity of democracy in the commonwealth during this public health crisis,” said Election Laws Committee House Chair John Lawn (D-Watertown). “I am truly proud of the team effort that led us to the finish line to complete comprehensive legislation that will safeguard elections this fall and provide many options for voters to ensure that all voices are heard. In a time where we are witnessing state election actions that are resulting in a disproportionate burden on the voter, Massachusetts must take the lead in providing safe and equitable access to the polls for its citizens. This legislation does just that.”
“The Massachusetts Legislature just adopted a critical election reform package that will help ensure that no citizen has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause which has fought hard for the bill. “The bill embodies best practices from across the country and will help our election system cope with the unprecedented threat of COVID-19.”
“We started this process with the goal to make voting easier during COVID-19 and this bill does just that by providing voters with options,” said Election Laws Committee Senate Chair Sen. Barry Finegold (D-North Andover). “For the first time ever in Massachusetts, voters can vote by mail and vote early in both the 2020 primary and general elections. In-person voting on election day remains an option and is made safer in this legislation. The bill equips clerks with the tools they need to count ballots expeditiously and adapt to these election advancements.”
“We applaud the House, Senate and governor for firmly moving to brace our elections for COVID-19,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director at MassVOTE. “Now we need to prepare. This means partnering with local election officials to ensure that they have the tools they need to run our elections this fall and educating voters so they may confidently cast their ballots in September and November.”
Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the lone opponent of the bill did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to explain why she voted against the measure. Back on June 3, Garry did offer the reason she voted against an earlier version of the bill: “I was very concerned about the manpower needed in the clerk’s offices especially in the smaller communities like I represent,” she said. “The expense of the expansion of the mailings and the need for more election personnel on longer early voting days and the possibility of fraud [is why I voted against the bill.] I heard loudly from my constituents that they did not agree with this proposal.”