ELECTION LAW CHANGES

By Bob Katzen

The Senate 37-3, approved and sent to the House a conference committee version of a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House and Senate had approved different versions of the bill and a conference committee hammered out this compromise version which did not include the section allowing same day voter registration that was in the Senate version but not in the House one. The measure requires the secretary of state to send out mail-in ballot applications, with return postage guaranteed, to registered voters before each presidential primary, state primary and biennial state election. It also allows registered voters to request a mail-in ballot for all elections in a single calendar year.

Other provisions include reducing the registration blackout period from 20 days prior to an election to 10 days; electronic voting options for voters with disabilities and military service members; allowing a voter with disabilities to request accommodations including an accessible electronic ballot application, ballot and voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically; ensuring that non-felons who are incarcerated who are currently eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote; mandating that felons who are incarcerated but prohibited from voting are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.

“This landmark election reform bill will empower voters and strengthen our democracy,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Senate Chair of the Committee on Election Laws and the co-sponsor of the bill. “In 2020, mail-in and early voting options helped generate record-breaking turnout. It is now time to build on this progress and enact long-lasting voting reforms. The [bill] is a big step in the right direction and will help ensure that every voter can exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

“I am so proud that at a time when access to the ballot is under attack in states nationwide, Massachusetts is passing landmark voting reforms to permanently enshrine expansions to voting access in statute and further underscore the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “Although I am disappointed same-day registration was not included in the final bill, even with the Senate offering multiple compromise approaches, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to file legislation on the subject going forward.”

Opponents saythe bill goes too far and does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect the integrity of the voting process. They argued that universal mail in voting was designed solely to protect voters during the pandemic. They argued that continuing this forever would cost far too much for smaller towns

Despite repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call, none of the three Republican senators who voted against the bill responded to requests for a comment on the reason they voted “No.” The three non-responsive senators are: Sens. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) and Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth).

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it).

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

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