Baker signs bill ensuring mail-in ballots, early voting

Politics

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

BOSTON (AP) – A voting rights bill designed to ensure permanent fixtures of mail-in ballots and early voting in future Massachusetts elections was signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The new law, which passed the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate by wide margins, would also increase ballot access for voters with disabilities and service members overseas. It will ensure that eligible voters in jail can request mail-in ballots and take steps to modernize the state’s election administration process.

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The law does not include provisions that would let individuals both register and vote on Election Day – a change sought by some activists.

Several voting options included in the new law proved popular during the 2020 election in Massachusetts at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when some voters were shying away from visiting crowded polling places.

Preparations are underway to ensure that the changes will take effect for the September 6 state primary elections, according to William Galvin, the Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth, whose office oversees the elections.

“Every voter in Massachusetts can expect to receive a pre-addressed, postage fee prepaid vote by mail within a few weeks. Voters who prefer to vote in person can vote on Election Day,” Galvin said in a written statement. Take advantage of extended in-person early voting or voting at your polling place.

Voting rights advocates welcomed the new law.

“We are thrilled that Governor Baker signed the Vote Act into law today,” Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said in a written statement. “At a time when many states are making it difficult to vote, this new law will modernize our elections and make our democracy more accessible and equitable.”

The law will allow registered voters to vote by mail for any presidential, state or municipal primary or election; Two weeks – including two weekends – set aside for in-person early voting for biennial state elections and one week – including a weekend – for presidential or state primaries; and move the voter registration deadline 20 to 10 days before a preliminary, primary or general election.

The secretary of state is required to send mail-in ballot applications to registered voters 45 days before any state election under the new law, with return postage guaranteed, hosting an online portal where voters can cast ballots in multiple languages. can request.

The law also provides an electronic voting option for foreign voters, including military personnel.

Critics have questioned whether some of the changes are constitutional, but voting rights advocates said the bill is vital to ensuring access to the ballot.

More than 3.6 million residents voted in the state’s 2020 general election, 76% of the total registered voters. 42% of them voted by mail in the general election. Another 23% voted during the early voting window.

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