By SCOTT JACKSON
Every registered voter in Massachusetts will be able to vote by mail this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed into law a bill that will authorize voting by mail for both the state primary on Sept. 1 and the general election on Nov. 3. The new law also creates an early voting period ahead of the state primary for the first time.
All registered voters will receive an application to cast a mail-in ballot for the state primary by July 15 and another application to vote by mail in the general election by Sept. 14. The applications and ballots will have postage costs already paid for. Applications must be received four days ahead of the election – Aug. 26 for the primary and Oct. 28 for the general election.
The law also tasks the secretary of state to create an online portal where residents can apply to vote by mail. The online portal must be available by Oct. 1 but could be up and running ahead of the primary election.
Ballots cast by mail need to be postmarked on or before the day of the election in order to be counted. Counting of ballots will continue through 5 p.m. on the Friday after the day of the election. Local election officials will have the ability to tabulate ballots prior to the day of the election.
Massachusetts has allowed in-person early voting ahead of the 2016 and 2018 general elections, as well as the presidential primary held in March. Early voting will be offered ahead of the state primary for the first time this year. Early voting ahead of the primary will take place from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28. Two weeks of early voting, from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30, will take place ahead of the general election.
The law also allows municipalities, with proper notice, 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.
Members of Quincy’s delegation on Beacon Hill applauded the new legislation.
“Voters should not have to choose between exercising their right to vote and their health,” Rep. Ronald Mariano, the House majority leader, said in a statement. “This bill preserves the integrity of our voting process while giving voters several safe options to cast their ballot, both by mail and in person.”
“While COVID-19 can bring much uncertainty, this bill offers a safer, more reliable election process and gives voters several options on when and how to vote,” said Sen. John Keenan. “By giving our election clerks flexibility in how to run the election, this comprehensive legislation will result in an election with greater voter access and will ensure the integrity of the results.”
“As we continue to adapt to the ongoing pandemic, I am proud to stand alongside my colleagues to pass important voting legislation here in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Tackey Chan. “Voters will not have to choose between executing their constitutional right to vote and risking their health and safety. This legislation ensures secure voting options whether by mail, early voting or on Election Day.”
“The right to vote is sacred and must be afforded to all citizens of Massachusetts no matter what obstacles stand in our path,” said Rep. Bruce Ayers. “Creating more feasible ways for people to vote has become an issue of paramount importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud Massachusetts has once again led the way by protecting and extending the right for our citizens to vote while also staying vigilant in regards to public health.”