VOTES Act makes vote-by-mail permanent, expands early voting options, and implements other important improvements to the Commonwealth’s elections
BOSTON – On June 9, 2022, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to pass S.2924, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act). This landmark legislation permanently codifies the popular mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020, increases ballot access for voters with disabilities and service members overseas, and takes steps to modernize the Commonwealth’s election administration process. At a time when democracy is under attack across the United States and across the globe, the VOTES Act implements vital measures to protect and expand voting rights here in Massachusetts.
“The VOTES Act will continue to increase participation in our democracy through a series of reforms aimed at increasing voting accessibility and voter turnout in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “This bill enshrines mail-in voting, expands early voting, and increases the opportunity to vote for those with disabilities, serving overseas, and eligible incarcerated members of society. I was proud to support this bill and am hopeful that we can continue to work towards same-day voter registration in the future.”
S.2924 reflects agreements reached by the VOTES Act Conference Committee to resolve outstanding differences between House (H.4367) and Senate (S.2554) voting reform bills. S.2924 contains the following key provisions:
Permanent mail-in voting
- Allows registered voters to vote by mail for any presidential, state or municipal primary or election.
- Municipalities may opt out of offering early voting by mail for any municipal preliminary or election not held on the same day as a state or federal election.
- Allows registered voters to request a mail-in ballot for all applicable preliminaries, primaries, and elections in the calendar year.
- Requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth (SoC) to send out mail-in ballot applications, with return postage guaranteed, to registered voters before each presidential primary, state primary, and biennial state election.
- Requires the SoC to implement an online portal to allow voters to request a mail-in ballot.
- Requires mail-in ballot applications to be posted on every municipality’s website.
- Guarantees return postage for all mail-in ballots.
Expanded early voting in-person
- Enshrines two weeks (including two weekends) of early voting in-person for biennial state elections and one week (including one weekend) for presidential or state primaries.
- Requires municipalities to establish accessible early voting sites.
- Requires larger municipalities to have early voting sites open for longer hours during the early voting period.
- Allows municipalities to opt-in to early voting in-person for any other municipal election not held on the same day as a state or federal election.
Electronic voting options for voters with disabilities and service members
- Enables a voter with disabilities to request accommodations from the SoC, including an accessible electronic ballot application, ballot, and voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically.
- Streamlines the voting process for uniformed and overseas citizens, giving them the option to vote through an electronic system approved by the SoC.
- Moves the voter registration deadline from 20 to 10 days before a preliminary, primary, or election.
- Requires the SoC’s online voter registration portal to be offered in multiple languages.
- Clarifies the automatic voter registration process.
Jail-based voting reforms
- Helps ensure that incarcerated individuals who are currently eligible to vote are able to exercise their voting rights.
- Requires correctional facilities to display and distribute voter education and election information materials, as prepared by the SoC.
- Requires facilities to assist individuals who are incarcerated and may be eligible to vote in registering, applying for and returning mail-in ballots.
- Requires SoC to provide guidance to local election officials about the qualifications and rights of eligible incarcerated voters and how to process their applications to register and vote.
- Requires facilities to provide voting information and a voter registration form upon an individual’s release from the facility.
Flexibility for local officials and improvements to election administration
- Gives municipalities the option to set up secure drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
- Allows election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots (by opening up envelopes and verifying signatures in advance of Election Day).
- Makes it easier for election officials to appoint and fill vacancies in poll workers.
- Gives municipalities discretion as to the use of check-out lists at polling locations.
- Requires the SoC to join the Electronic Registration Information Center by July 1, 2022, in order to help Massachusetts keep more accurate voting rolls.
- Instructs the SoC to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to highlight the provisions in the bill.
Overall, the VOTES Act builds upon the successful temporary mail-in and early voting options used in 2020 in Massachusetts. More people voted than ever before in the Commonwealth in the 2020 general election: approximately 3.66 million residents cast ballots, totaling 76% of all registered voters. Moreover, 42% of voters voted by mail in the general election, and another 23% voted during early voting windows. Similarly, over 1.7 million people voted in last year’s state primary, the highest number of voters ever in a state primary. Close to half of all voters voted by mail during the primary.
The VOTES Act was also passed by the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by Governor Baker.