Timilty Votes to Increase Access to Voting During COVID-19
BOSTON (6/23/2020) – State Senator Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate recently, in passing legislation to expand voter access and address safety concerns for all remaining 2020 elections.
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 September 1, 2020 state primary and the November 3, 2020 general election. It also allows residents to vote-by-mail, and expands absentee ballot access in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Specifically, this legislation will ensure that voters of the Commonwealth have additional time to vote in person,” said Timilty.
“Accommodating extra time to vote, and adding vote-by-mail, as well as expanding absentee ballot access, will help to increase voter access and voter safety. This measure will also help to reduce the number of people gathering to vote, and reduce voter waiting periods by spreading the opportunity to vote over multiple dates,” he said. “Safety is paramount in this Covid-19 State of Emergency.”
The bill will include 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 of the Commonwealth 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 will take place from Tuesday, October 17, 2020 to Friday, October 30, 2020. Early voting hours will 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 the Commonwealth 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.
The legislation must now be reconciled with the Massachusetts House of Representatives