COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133
Senator Joan B. Lovely
2nd Essex District
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 10, 2022
Senate Passes Landmark Voting Reform Legislation
VOTES Act makes vote-by-mail permanent, expands early voting options, and implements other important improvements to the Commonwealth’s elections
BOSTON- On Thursday, June 9th the Massachusetts State Senate passed 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.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and Massachusetts must be a leader in defending this sacred right,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We must ensure that every eligible voter – whether they are a person with a disability, a member of our armed forces stationed abroad, or just home sick – is fully able to exercise their right to vote. The VOTES Act will serve as a much-needed step towards modernizing our election infrastructure and expanding access to eligible voters. I want to thank Majority Leader Creem and Election Laws Chair Finegold, their partners in the House, as well as their staffs, for their hard work to advance this critical legislation at a time when voting is under threat in America.”
“Voting is vital to our democracy, and we must continue to ensure that the election process is fair, secure and accessible,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “Proud to work with my Senate colleagues to pass the VOTES Act which will enable Massachusetts citizens to continue to exercise this constitutional right and improve accessibility by codifying mail in voting, expanding early in-person voting, and reducing the number of days a person can vote after registering from 20 days to 10 days. Thank you Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem, Election Laws Chair Barry Finegold, and all the members of the Conference Committee for your leadership on this critical legislation.”
“I am so proud that at a time when access to the ballot is under attack in states nationwide, Massachusetts is passing landmark voting reforms to permanently enshrine expansions to voting access in statute and further underscore the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “Although I am disappointed same-day registration was not included in the final bill, even with the Senate offering multiple compromise approaches, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to file legislation on the subject going forward.”
“This landmark election reform bill will empower voters and strengthen our democracy,” said Senator Barry Finegold (D – Andover), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws and Senate Chair of the Legislature’s VOTES Act Conference Committee. “In 2020, mail-in and early voting options helped generate record-breaking turnout. It is now time to build on this progress and enact long-lasting voting reforms. The VOTES Act is a big step in the right direction and will help ensure that every voter can exercise their fundamental right to vote. We still have more work to do, especially on same-day voter registration, but I am thrilled to advance the comprehensive election reforms included in the VOTES Act. I’d like to thank my conference committee co-chair Leader Moran for his close partnership and collaboration, as well my fellow conferees and everyone who was involved throughout this process.”
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 now heads to the House for consideration.