This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House and Senate voted to approve the final conference committee report on a bill to help support safe elections in Massachusetts this Fall. H4820, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, expands the options for both mail-in voting and early voting in person for the 2020 state primary and general election. It additionally provides for public health safeguards for in-person voting, accessibility to voting options for persons with disabilities, equity in access to polling places, early tabulation of ballots by the clerks, and no-excuse early voting by mail for elections through the end of 2020. This legislation protects voters and the integrity of our democracy by ensuring that all voices in the Commonwealth are heard despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.
“The right to vote is one of our core democratic foundations,” said Representative Meschino. “The legislature established critical steps to ensure that no resident is disenfranchised by the pandemic.”
Per the final bill:
- All registered voters will receive an application to vote early by mail for this Fall’s primary and general elections. Voters will also be able to apply to vote early by mail through an online portal to be developed by the Secretary of State.
- Early voting by mailed-in ballots come with a blank envelope for privacy and a self addressed postage pre-paid envelope to be returned by mail, drop box, or in person.
- Absentee voting will be permitted for all who are taking precautions related to COVID-19.
- In consultation with the Commission of DPH, the State Secretary will craft emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and PPE, frequent use of sanitizers, and sanitary use of marking pens.
- There will be 7 days of in-person early voting before the September 1 primary, and 14 days of in-person early voting before the November 3rd general.
- Voters will still be able to cast a ballot at the polls on election day.
- Early voting by mail will be allowed for any city or town elections held at the same time as the primary or general or on or before December 31, 2020.
- The bill provides for accessible voting options for persons with disabilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and national standards.
- Municipalities will be required to evaluate and report any disparate adverse impact on polling place accessibility on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income, or age in order to change a polling location.
The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.