Mass Senate Unanimously Passes Comprehensive Elections Bill to Address Voting Safety Concerns During COVID-19
The following is a press release from Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka’s office.
BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate on Tuesday, June 16, unanimously passed legislation to expand voter access and address safety for all remaining 2020 elections, including the September 1, 2020 state primary and November 3, 2020 general election, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, would, for the first time in state history, give all eligible residents the opportunity to vote early for the state primary and general election, allow residents to vote-by-mail, and expand absentee ballot access.
“The elections bill passed today is a historic step that dramatically increases voting access in our Commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill would allow voters, for the first time, to cast ballots by mail, vote early and safely vote in person – allowing residents to safely exercise their important right to vote during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate has always championed greater participation in our democracy, and I am proud that ideas we’ve originated over the years are contained in this bill. I would like to thank my colleagues, including Senators Finegold, Creem, and Rodrigues for their urgency in advancing this bill, and I look forward to it becoming law.”
“One of our most important duties is to ensure we have an accessible and inclusive election process that is free and fair,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D -Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud Senate President Spilka and Senator Finegold for their leadership to preserve equal access to safe and secure voting options for all voters the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and my colleagues for taking action to remove barriers and safeguard our democracy by ensuring all voices are heard without putting our communities at risk during this uncertain time.”
“This legislation is going to give people many options to vote this fall,” said Senate Election Laws Committee Chair Barry Finegold (D-Andover). “This bill continues to move Massachusetts toward secure and easy elections by providing vote-by-mail for the primary and general elections, offering an online portal to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the general election, adding early voting in person for the primary, and maintaining the option to vote in person on election day.”
“As a passionate advocate for increasing voter participation, I am pleased that the bill adopted in the Senate today will provide voters with the voting options they need to ensure widespread participation while protecting the health and safety of election workers and voters alike,” said Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and voters should not have to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. Today’s action ensures that this will not be the case.”
“While almost every dimension of our lives has been disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our system of elections is the bedrock of our democracy and must continue to function. The measures contained in this bill expand options to facilitate voting while at the same time protecting the integrity of the process and the health of voters,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester).
The bill does the following:
- Implements an early vote-by-mail system: An application to receive an early voting ballot will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15, 2020. The Secretary will then mail another application for the general election in the voter booklet sent out in the fall. Both applications and ballots will be postage paid.
- Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods: For the first time in Massachusetts, early voting will be available for the state primary, to take place from Saturday, August 22, 2020 through Friday, August 28, 2020. Early voting for the general election would take place from Tuesday, October 17, 2020 to Friday, October 30, 2020. Early voting hours would vary according to the size of the municipality in order to give voters ample opportunity to participate while not overburdening small towns’ election departments. Voters may return their early voting ballot in the mail, in a secure drop box, or in person.
- Tasks the Secretary of State with creating an online portal: The bill requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal by October 1, 2020 to make it as easy as possible for people to apply for general election early voting ballots electronically.
- Expands absentee voting: The bill provides for absentee voting by any person taking precautions related to COVID-19. Voters may also return absentee ballots via a secure drop box.
- Provides tools to assist clerks: Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill also provides for several accommodations to make the logistics of processing votes easier. The legislation allows for tabulating ballots prior to election day, and it offers pre-addressed envelopes to voters, so their applications go directly to their clerk’s office.
- Makes in-person voting more efficient: The bill allows municipalities to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers. It also expands who is eligible to serve as a poll worker, knowing that many current volunteers are seniors who may feel less comfortable working in public during COVID-19.