SENATE PASSES COMPREHENSIVE ELECTION LAWS BILL TO ADDRESS VOTING SAFETY CONCERNS DURING COVID-19
Creem Amendment to Improve Disabled Access to Voting Adopted
BOSTON (6/16/2020) – Senator Cindy Creem voted in support of legislation passed by the Massachusetts State Senate on Tuesday 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 bill also puts in place health and safety recommendations to allow voters to vote in person, if preferred.
“As a passionate advocate for increasing voter participation, I am pleased that the bill adopted today will provide the voting options needed to ensure widespread participation, while protecting the health and safety of election workers and voters alike,” said Senate 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.”
Senator Creem, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, first filed legislation to authorize early voting and voting by mail in April, and successfully amended this bill to require the Secretary of State to issue a report on ways to implement online voting for persons with disabilities.
The bill would:
Implement a vote-by-mail system: An application for a mail-in ballot will be sent to all registered voters by July 15. A separate application for the general election will be in the voter booklet sent out in the fall. Both applications and ballots will be postage paid.
Create early voting for the primary and expand 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.
Task 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.
Expand 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.
Provide 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.
Make 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.
The legislation must now be reconciled with the election laws bill adopted by the MA House of Representatives.