Massachusetts Legislature Passes Bill to Safeguard Fall 2020 Elections

BOSTON (7/7/2020) – Last week, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Representative Rich Haggerty (D-Woburn), and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) joined their colleagues in the Massachusetts General Court to pass a bill that expands voter access and ensures safe voting options for all remaining 2020 elections, including the September 1st state primary and the November 3rd general election. The legislation, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, was signed into law by the Governor on July 6th.

The bill establishes a vote-by-mail option and early voting period for the upcoming fall elections for the first time in state history. It also addresses polling place safety for those who choose to cast their ballots in person.

“As we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that Massachusetts voters can safely cast their ballots in our upcoming elections without risking exposure to the virus,” said Senator Friedman. “This historic bill expands voting options to do just that, strengthening our democracy and promoting voter participation this fall. I’d like to thank my colleagues in the Senate and House for their hard work on this important bill.”

“Voting is the most basic responsibility and right we have in our representative democracy,” said Representative Ciccolo. “No one should have to choose between protecting their health and casting their ballot, and this legislation ensures that Massachusetts residents will not have to make that choice this fall.”

“This legislation expands options for voting in the primary and general election and will provide a safe atmosphere for the day of voting,” said Representative Haggerty. “Making sure our elections are secure, accessible, and our residents remain healthy continues to be a top priority.”

To protect the vote in fall 2020 elections, the bill:

Implements a system for voting early by mail. An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15th. The Secretary will then mail another application for the general election by September 14th. Both applications and ballots will have postage costs already paid.

Ballots postmarked on or before November 3rd will be counted as long as they are received by Friday November 6th at 5:00PM. Completed applications for early voting and absentee voting must be received four business days before the election (i.e. Wednesday August 26th for the primary election and Wednesday October 28th for the general election).

Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods. For the first time in Massachusetts history, early voting will be available for the state primary. It will take place from Saturday, August 22nd through Friday, August 28th. Early voting for the general election is scheduled from Tuesday, October 17th to Friday, October 30th.

Makes in-person voting safer and more efficient. The bill allows municipalities, with proper notice, 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.

Provides tools to assist clerks. Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill 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.

Tasks the Secretary of the Commonwealth with creating an online portal and promoting voting options. To make it as easy as possible for people to apply for general election early voting, the bill requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal not later than October 1st. Electronic applications for early voting will be available for the general election, and if feasible, for the primary election as well.

The bill also requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth to conduct a public awareness campaign to inform and notify voters of the many options available to them for casting a vote in the upcoming 2020 elections.