Information in this post has largely been derived from the Senate Press Release on the VOTES Act.
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts State Senate passed S.2545, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act). This comprehensive voting reform bill permanently codifies mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020. The bill would also enact same-day voter registration, increase ballot access for service members serving overseas, and make a series of other improvements to the Commonwealth’s election administration process.
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.
- The bill would also provide options for more flexible in-person early voting for municipalities for biennial state elections and presidential elections based on population:
- For municipalities with less than 5,000 registered voters, the municipalities must provide in-person early voting for at least 4 hours each weekend. Additionally, the municipality may vote to provide early in-person voting hours for weekdays at no less than 25% of the usually business hours of the town clerk.
- For municipalities with between 5,000 – 25,000 registered voters, the municipality must provide in-person early voting for at least 6 hours each weekend. Additionally, the municipality may vote to provide early voting hours for weekdays of not less than 50% of the usual business hours of the town clerk and provide early in-person voting during normal town clerk business hours from the 8 to 4 days prior to an election.
- For municipalities with between 25,000 – 40,000 registered voters, the municipality must provide at least 4 hours of in-person early voting each weekend day. Additionally, the municipality may vote to provide early voting hours of not less than 50% of the usual business hours of the town clerk and provide early in-person voting during normal town clerk business hours from the 8 to 4 days prior to an 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 correctional facilities to assist individuals who are incarcerated in registering, applying for and returning mail ballots.
- The bill would ensure that individuals who are incarcerated are properly notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity fill out a voter registration form.
- The bill would allow individuals who were experiencing homelessness prior to incarceration to use the correctional facility address to register to vote.
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.
Massachusetts Service Members Oversea Voting Access
- The bill targets vote-by-mail access to U.S. service members residing overseas as it allows them to cast their vote electronically.
The bill would also instruct the Secretary of State to conduct a culturally comprehensive and linguistically diverse public awareness campaign to highlight the new voting and registration options.