Landmark bill expands voting access

The House just approved a major bipartisan bill to expand voting access in Massachusetts. No one should have to choose between risking their heath and exercising their constitutional right to vote and this legislation protects those rights and the integrity of our electoral process. There’s a lot to unpack here, but in summary the bill takes the following key steps:

1) Expands Early Voting option for the November general election for a period of 14 days (10/17 to 10/30) including two weekends;

2) For the first time adds an Early Voting option for the September Primary for a period of 7 days (8/22 to 8/28) including one weekend;

3) Provides for Early Voting by Mail by sending an absentee ballot request form with return postage to every registered voter before the state primary and again before the general election;

4) Establishes an online portal for registered voters to request an absentee ballot from their local town clerk;

5) Protects traditional in-person voting on Election Day with new safeguards and a streamlined process for checkout.

The legislation includes an amendment to make it easier for our town clerks to process early and absentee ballots. It also includes two other amendments I co-sponsored to ensure that voters with disabilities can request an accommodation from the secretary of state, and another to expand the time window for voter registration. These changes will encourage more resident to vote from the safety of their own home and will improve the ability of local election officials to deal with increase of early ballots. Federal funding will be available to help cover these costs so the burden does not fall on our cities and towns.

One final point, since I’m sure we will hear this refrain in some quarters. Voting by mail is not a new phenomenon. Americans have been voting by mail since before the Civil War. Indeed, the right is enshrined in our Massachusetts State Constitution (Amendments XLV & CV). Our current President votes by mail. I personally have voted by mail several times. I’m sure many of you have as well. Previously, casting an absentee ballot in Massachusetts required a voter to affirm one of three qualified reasons. The legislation approved by the House today removes that burden and makes the process much easier, whether you call it absentee voting or early voting by mail.

This bill now heads to the Senate for review, but I expect they will take up the issue quickly. Thank you to Election Law Committee Chairman John Lawn and all my colleagues who worked on this. Anytime we are talking about something as core as elections and voting rights there are lot of viewpoints to consider. This bill does a good job of balancing issues of access, integrity and safety, while protecting the foundational right of citizens to vote. I’m proud to support it.