For Immediate Release: 10/7/21
Contact: Peter Jasinski | firstname.lastname@example.org
BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted Wednesday to pass the comprehensive voting reform bill known as the VOTES Act, which permanently codifies the popular mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020, while also enacting same-day voter registration and increasing ballot access for service members serving overseas.
Senator Keenan co-sponsored amendment #35 filed by Senator Rebecca Rausch (D-Needham) which would require the Secretary of State to initiate a public awareness campaign about the voting changes included in the bill. Senator Keenan co-sponsored the amendment after it was redrafted to include language he sought requiring the awareness effort inform voters of the extended timeline often needed when calculating election results. Collection and tabulation of ballots cast by mail or drop box could mean a period of several days before final election results are confirmed.
“Expanding voting opportunities to our citizens has only strengthened the democratic process, but one of the consequences of having more votes means it just takes more time to count them. As we continue the transition to expanded access to voting, I think it is critically important that voters know that final results may not be available until a few days after an election,” said Senator Keenan.
The Rausch amendment co-sponsored by Senator Keenan passed the Senate on a unanimous roll call vote and will also reassure voters that a change in the election process does not mean a change in election integrity.
“If we actively inform voters, then the time taken to process and tally votes will not be used by some to suggest something is amiss, but rather will be seen as a safeguard ensuring that all votes will be accurately counted,” said Senator Keenan.
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.
· The bill would require one week (including one weekend) of early voting in-person for a presidential or state primary and any municipal elections held on the same day.
· The bill would 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; the Secretary of the Commonwealth 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.
· As in 2020, 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 give municipalities the option to set up secure drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
· The bill would allow election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots in advance of Election Day.
· The bill would give municipalities 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.
· The bill would require correctional facilities to display and distribute information about voting rights and procedures, as prepared by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
· The bill would require facilities to assist incarcerated individuals who are currently eligible to vote in registering, applying for and returning mail ballots.
· Through inclusion of an amendment, the bill would ensure that individuals who are incarcerated but ineligible to vote are properly notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to 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.
· Thirty other states have already joined ERIC, which helps 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.
Wednesday’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.