An Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to COVID-19
After months of research, advocacy, and grassroots pressure, by Safe Elections Network, legislation to protect voters, votes, and elections officials alike was signed into law. Here's a section-by-section summary.
1. Applications to vote early by mail must be received by 5PM four business days before an election (MGL).
2. The period during which voters may vote early by mail must begin as soon as local election officials have received all necessary materials (MGL).
3. Applications for absentee ballots sent by mail must be received by the fourth business day before an election. Applications for absentee ballots to be voted in person must be received by noon on the day before an election (MGL).
4. If a voter is admitted to a health care facility on or after the seventh day before an election, their ballot must be delivered in person to the facility’s address (MGL).
5. Voters can return absentee ballots by placing them in secure drop boxes, where provided (MGL).
By July 15, the state secretary must mail vote-by-mail ballot applications for the primary election to all voters who register by July 1. By September 14, the state secretary must mail vote-by-mail ballot applications for the general election to all voters who register by September 1.
Election officers and registrars of every city or town must send an “acknowledgment notice” including an application to vote by mail in the primary election to any person registering to vote or changing their registration address between July 1 and August 22. They must do the same for any person in the general election for any person registering to vote or changing their registration address between September 1 and October 24.
Pre-paid postage will be included. Applications will also be available online and will be accepted if they are signed or submitted electronically, but any electronic signature must be written in “substantially the same manner” as a handwritten signature.
Applications must allow a voter to designate the mailing address to which a ballot shall be sent.
Any written communication requesting a mail-in ballot will be treated the same as an official filled-out application.
Applications for early voting by mail ballots can be made until 5PM on the Wednesday before the primary and the general election.
The state secretary must try and implement a system that generates a postmark for determining the date upon which a ballot envelope was mailed.
Ballots will be returned to local election officials in person, by mail, or via a secure drop-box into which voters may deposit them. Early voting ballots will be accepted in the general election if mailed by November 3, and received by 5PM on November 6. A postmark is evidence of the time of mailing.
Ballots must be in the language selected by voters. Voters wishing to vote early by mail who require accommodations due to disability can request them from the secretary of state (such as an authorized blank electronic ballot that can be filled out electronically and printed). Electronic accommodations must comply with the ADA and must not store personal information about voters.
7. In-person early voting for the primary election will take place from August 22 to August 28. Early voting sites must be designated by August 7. In-person early voting for the general election will take place from October 17 to October 30. Early voting sites must be designated by October 2. If a voter dies after casting a ballot, their vote still counts. Local election officials may decide to process absentee and early voting ballots in the local election office before primary or election day. But results may not be determined or announced before the polls close.
8. By August 3 for the primary and October 9 for the general, the Secretary of State must deliver to each city or town all necessary materials for absentee and early mail-voting, including absentee and early voting ballots, sufficient quantities of envelopes, and instructions for voting by mail.
9. Early voters are still only able to vote in one party’s primary. Early voting will be governed by the regular procedures adapted to the dates adopted in this law.
10. Any qualified voter may vote early by mail for any city or town election held on or before December 31, 2020.
11. Polling locations can be changed by public and recorded vote up to twenty days before the primary or general election if officials determine that public health or convenience would be better served. If officials decide to change a polling location, they must evaluate and report on whether the change will have a disparate impact on access to the polling place on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income, or age. A report must be made public at least 3 days before the polling location is changed.
12. For the primary and general elections, state and local officials may appoint poll workers without regard to political party membership, voter status, residence in the city or town or inclusion on a list filed by a political party committee if the city or town clerk determines in writing there is a lack of poll workers.
13. Election officials can opt not to require a check-out table at the ballot box.
14. The secretary of state must create an online system where voters can request an early or absentee ballot mailed to their designated address. The system must not require a signature, and must be in place for the November election and if possible the September primary. It must be operational by October 1.
15. Due to COVID-19, all voters may be considered physically disabled and so can vote by absentee ballot in any elections before December 31, 2020.
16. Electronic applications for early and absentee ballots will be accepted so long as electronic signatures are written in the same manner as a handwritten signature.
17. Voters instructed to self-quarantine by medical or health professionals on or after the seventh day before an election will be eligible to have ballots delivered to them.
18. The last day to register to vote for the primary and general elections will be 10 days before the election.
19. The secretary, after consulting the Department of Public Health, will adopt regulations requiring public health safeguards at early voting sites and polling places, including required distancing of voters and election officers, frequent use of sanitizers, personal protective equipment, and use of marking pens.
20. By July 15, the secretary of state must promulgate regulations for electronic poll books (which allow officials to review voter registration information) and must certify at least one type of electronic poll book to be used in the primary, general, and all future elections.
21. Before July 1, 2021, the state secretary will report to the House and the Senate on the costs to implement this act, including the number of ballot applications sent, the number of applications returned requesting a ballot, the number of ballots cast by mail, and the total cost and amounts paid for using federal funds.
22. Within six months, the state secretary will report to the House and the Senate on how voting could be made more accessible for voters with disabilities, specifically via online options.
23. An audit will be conducted of ballots cast in the November election (MGL).
24. The state secretary will conduct a public awareness campaign to inform voters about this act – specifically about expanded voting options and the procedures to vote by mail.