Senate Passes Landmark Voting Reform Legislation

Bill makes vote-by-mail permanent, expands early voting options, implements same-day voter registration, and ushers in other groundbreaking election reforms

BOSTON (10/06/21) – On October 6, 2021, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to pass S.2545, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act). This comprehensive voting reform bill permanently codifies the popular mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020. The bill would also enact same-day voter registration, increase ballot access for service members serving overseas, and make a series of other improvements to the Commonwealth’s election administration process.

“At a time when voting rights are under unprecedented attack across the country, I’m proud to live in a state that continually searches for opportunities to promote and expand voter participation,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means. “This historic bill strengthens our democracy and continues to ensure that Massachusetts voters can safely and easily exercise their fundamental right to vote. I applaud Senator President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and Senator Creem and Finegold for their leadership and commitment to this issue.”

Responding to trends in voting and building off previous actions taken by the Legislature, the VOTES Act contains the following key provisions:

Same-Day Voter Registration

  • Individuals would be able to register to vote during early voting periods or on the day of a primary or election. Twenty other states and the District of Columbia already use same-day registration.

Early Voting In-Person

  • The bill would require two weeks (including two weekends) of early voting in-person for biennial state elections and any municipal elections held on the same day. For a presidential or state primary and any municipal elections held on the same day, the legislation would require one week (including one weekend) of early voting in-person.
  • The legislation would also allow municipalities to opt-in to early voting in-person for any municipal election not held concurrently with another election.

Permanent No-Excuse Mail-In Voting

  • The bill would require the Secretary of the Commonwealth to send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters on July 15 of every even-numbered year and would have the option to include these applications as part of mailings already required to be sent by the Secretary.
  • As in 2020, postage would be guaranteed for mail-in ballot applications and ballots and mail-in ballots would be accepted for a biennial state election if mailed on or by election day and received by 5PM on the third day after the election.

Additional Flexibility For Local Officials

  • The bill would allow election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots in advance of Election Day. Additionally, the bill would give municipalities the option to set up secure drop boxes for mail-in ballots and discretion as to the use of a check-out list at a polling location.

Accommodations For People With Disabilities

  • The bill would allow a voter with disabilities to request accommodations from the Secretary of the Commonwealth to vote by mail for state elections. Accommodations would include: electronic and accessible instructions, ballot application, ballot, and a voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically.

Jail-Based Voting Reforms

  • The bill would help ensure that individuals who are incarcerated who are currently eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote in every state primary and election. Correctional facilities would be required to display and distribute information about voting rights and procedures, as prepared by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and require facilities to assist individuals who are incarcerated in registering, applying for and returning mail ballots.
  • Through inclusion of an amendment, the bill would ensure that individuals who are incarcerated are properly notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity fill out a voter registration form

Joining the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)

  • The bill would require the Secretary of the Commonwealth to enter into an agreement with ERIC no later than July 1, 2022, which thirty other states have already joined, helping states keep more accurate voting rolls.

The Senate also unanimously approved an amendment to the VOTES Act targeting vote-by-mail ballot access by U.S. service members residing overseas and allowing for them to cast their vote electronically.

The bill, through inclusion of an amendment, would also instruct the Secretary of State to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to highlight the new voting and registration options.

The Senate’s vote follows previous action by the Legislature to temporarily extend vote-by-mail and early voting options through December 15, 2021.

The VOTES Act now advances on to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for further consideration.