The State Senate has passed a major voting reform bill to expand voting access, making permanent COVID era initiatives like mail-in ballots and expanded early voting.
“At a time when states like Texas and Georgia are making it tougher to vote, Massachusetts is going the other way and expanding access,” said local Senator Mike Barrett. “This is deeply satisfying news. I’m proud of the Massachusetts State Senate.”
When it comes to early voting, the bill requires two weeks (including two weekends) of in-person early voting for biennial state elections and municipal elections held on the same day. It would allow municipalities to opt in to early voting in person for any municipal election not held concurrently with another election.
For vote-by-mail, the bill requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth to send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in July of every even-numbered year.
Barrett says he’s pleased that the Senate included a same-day registration provision, which allows individuals to register to vote during early voting periods or on the day of a primary or general election. Twenty other states, Barrett says, already use same-day registration.
Importantly, given the range of new measures, the bill instructs the Secretary of State to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to highlight the new voting and registration options.
The bill expands access to voting in other ways as well.
Currently, people held in correctional facilities on misdemeanor convictions or as they await trial are eligible to vote. The Senate bill ensures that individuals who are incarcerated, who are currently eligible to vote, are provided with voting information and can exercise their right to vote in state primaries and general elections. An amendment adopted during debate ensures that people who are incarcerated are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form.
The Senate unanimously approved a provision to streamline ballot access for U.S. service members overseas by allowing them to cast their vote electronically.
For local officials, the bill provides flexibility to accommodate the increased election logistics of each town in the state. For example, Barrett says, the bill allows election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots in advance of election day.
The VOTES Act now advances on to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for further consideration.