By Bob Katzen
The House 126-29, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law 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 a compromise version which did not include the controversial 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 and 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.
“I’m proud to see the [bill] pass in the House and make its way to the governor’s desk,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Senate Chair of the Committee on Election Laws and the co-sponsor of the bill. “When more people participate in voting, democracy wins.”
“I am concerned about the amount of money we are spending mailing out mail-in ballot applications when there are plenty of ways a voter can request a mail-in ballot if they want one,” said Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the only Democrat to vote against the measure. “I would rather see these funds go to something more productive like free IDs so that everyone has an ID to vote, open bank accounts and get certain medications that require IDs. We are also putting a tremendous amount of work on our town clerks, especially in our smaller communities like in my district.”
“We are thrilled that both the House and Senate have voted in support of the [bill],” said the group MassVOTE. “Even though this version of [the bill] does lack a provision we have long supported—Election Day Registration—we are very glad to see that popular pro-voter policies like mail-in voting, expanded early voting and jail-based voting are included.”
“As a general rule, we should be promoting voting in person and on Election Day,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “Anytime a voter loses control of their ballot before it’s given to an election official, it’s possible it could be lost or altered. The Postal Service cannot guarantee a 100 percent delivery rate.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven Yes