By Bob Katzen
Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. This version of the bill did not include the controversial section allowing same-day voter registration.
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; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.
“My office has anticipated this new law and preparations are already well underway for the September 6th state primaries,” said Secretary of State Bill Galvin. “Every voter in Massachusetts can expect to receive a pre-addressed, postage pre-paid Vote by Mail application in just a few weeks. Voters who prefer to vote in person will be able to take advantage of expanded in-person early voting or vote at their polling place on Election Day.”
“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 co-sponsor of the measure. “In 2020, mail-in and early voting options helped generate record-breaking turnout. “[The bill] builds upon this progress and will help ensure that every voter can exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
“The [bill] will expand voter participation in Massachusetts at a time when other states are seeking to make it more difficult to participate in our democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “As the lead Senate sponsor of the [bill], I am very happy that the bill has now been signed into law.”
“The most secure way to vote is in person and on Election Day,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “Handing over your ballot to the United States Postal Service does not guarantee your vote will count. It’s rather disappointing the governor and Democratic lawmakers are pursuing this new law which is less secure.”
In the meantime, Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Legislature’s passage of the part of the new law that codifies universal no-fault mail-in voting. He said that the Massachusetts Constitution lists only three instances whereby citizens can vote absentee during elections: If they’re out-of-town, physically disabled or have a religious-based conflict with Election Day.
“There’s a reason why we have three branches of government, and we’re confident that the Supreme Judicial Court will strike down and expose the Democrats’ unconstitutional permanent expansion of mail-in voting,” Lyons said.