BOSTON – The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would allow Massachusetts voters to safely participate in upcoming state and local elections using expanded early voting and mail-in voting options.
House Bill 4768, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, was engrossed by the House on a vote of 155-1 on June 4, and will now move to the Senate for further action.
State Rep. Will Crocker (R-Centerville) said, the bill takes several steps to help minimize the public health risks for voters and poll workers participating in this year’s elections.
“Being able to make your voice known through the ballot box is one of the bedrocks of our constitution and our democracy,” Crocker said. “I am happy to be able to vote for a piece of legislation that will make it easier for those who are hampered in their ability to cast their ballot with all the problems COVID-19 pandemic has presented.”
It requires the Secretary of State to mail applications to all registered voters by July 15, and again by Sept. 14, so those who wish to do so can request a vote-by-mail ballot for the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election, respectively. Voters must submit a ballot request to their city or town clerk by Aug. 28 for the primary and by Oct. 30 for the general election, using a pre-paid envelope provided with the application.
House Bill 4768 provides the same application filing cut-off dates for absentee ballot requests but sets a deadline of noon on the day immediately preceding the election for individuals wishing to cast an absentee ballot in person. Applications, as well as ballots, must be provided in any language required by the bilingual election requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.
To avoid overcrowding at polling locations on election day, completed early voting ballots can be mailed using a pre-paid return postage envelope, delivered in-person to the local clerk’s office, or placed in a secured municipal drop-box, if available. Cities and towns will be required to provide early voting hours, including weekend hours, for individuals casting ballots in-person for the primary election from Aug. 22-28, and from Oct. 17-30 for the general election.
Crocker noted that House Bill 4768 gives qualified voters the option to vote early by mail for any city or town election held on or before Dec. 31. The bill also authorizes electronic voting signatures to be used for early voting and absentee ballot applications for all elections held between now and Dec. 31.
To further minimize the public health risks associated with the novel coronavirus and reduce the number of poll workers needed, House Bill 4768 allows municipalities to eliminate the “check-out” table at polling stations for voters casting ballots in-person on election day.
Several additional amendments were added to the bill during floor debate, including language:
• allowing municipal clerks to process early ballots as they are received by mail, provided they are kept secured, locked, and unexamined, and no results are announced until after the polls close;
• allowing vote-by-mail participants to request certain accommodations from the Secretary of State’s office, including authorized blank electronic ballots that can be filled out electronically and printed for mailing;
• requiring the Secretary of State to provide regulations by July 15 for electronic poll books to be used for the 2020 state elections and all future elections;
• allowing ballot applications to be sent to a mailing address if the address is different than the voter’s residential address.