Massachusetts Approves Vote-by-Mail for 2020

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Massachusetts’ governor has signed legislation approving the use of vote-by-mail in the Bay State for the 2020 election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. MassLive has more:

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that will allow residents to submit mail-in ballots to cast their votes in the state primary and general election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The $8 million voting reform bill allows people to vote by mail in a general election without needing to designate any reason the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general elections, a first for Massachusetts. But the expanded vote-by-mail provisions aren’t permanent: the measures expire Dec. 31.

The voting law also allows early in-person voting for the state primary for the first time. Early voting for the state primary will take place between Aug. 22 and Aug. 28. For the general election, early voting runs from Oct. 17 and 30, making polling places available for two weekends.

The process starts very soon, with applications going out in the next week or so for the primary, with another round for the general in September:

Secretary of State William Galvin’s office must must mail out applications to households by July 15 so voters can decide if they want to vote by mail for the primary. He must also mail out vote-by-mail applications for the general election by Sept. 14. The secretary’s office would have to conduct a public awareness campaign.

In a statement Monday, Galvin said his office is moving forward to implement the law.

”I am very pleased that this bill has been signed into law, allowing voters and election officials to plan for everyone to be able to vote safely this fall,” Galvin said. “I am also glad the new law includes the additional in-person early voting I proposed for both the primary and the election.”

The law protects language access for voters and sets deadlines for returning both applications and ballots:

Each application will have to be provided in any language required by the Voting Rights Act, meaning any language used by more than 10,000 people in a jurisdiction or more than 5% of all voting age citizens.

To vote by mail, voters must send their applications at least four business days before the election and have ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3. Clerks would continue to accept those ballots until 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.

There will still be in-person voting as well, with all of the precautions that are now familiar from other states – but hopefully without the problems:

Voting in person might look different as the threat of the coronavirus lingers. Under the bill, Galvin must develop emergency regulations that include rules on distancing between voters and election officers, frequent use of hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment and use of marking pens.

Massachusetts is one of at least 13 states started considering voting bills in light of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Elections in Wisconsin and Georgia during the coronavirus pandemic prompted voting rights advocates and lawmakers to push for reforms in other states with upcoming elections.

Kentucky expanded absentee voting earlier this year, leading to the highest primary turnout in the state since the 2008 presidential primary, according to Politico. Just over 1 million voters in Kentucky voted in the primary despite COVID-19 with three-quarters of the votes coming through absentee ballots.

Massachusetts’ move to VBM for 2020 is a welcome middle ground between the insistence on the status quo and the push to switch permanently to mail balloting. The bill does leave little time for the process to start before the primary, which will – as usual – make implementation crucial. Stay tuned …

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