Senate Set to Consider Landmark Voting Reform Bill

by | Oct 1, 2021

The Massachusetts State Senate unveiled S.2545, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act). This comprehensive voting reform bill permanently codify the popular mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020. The bill would also enact same-day voter registration and make a series of other improvements to the Commonwealth’s election administration process.

“Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and I believe we have a responsibility to reinforce the right to vote for all residents in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “We have adapted well as it pertains to voting in these uncertain times, and I’m glad we are taking steps towards implementing common sense legislation that will support a more accessible and efficient system going forward.”

The VOTES Act takes crucial steps to expand the right to vote in Massachusetts at a time when states across the country are rolling back voting rights: since the start of this year, 18 states have passed 30 laws limiting voter access. The Senate bill would also take steps to align the Commonwealth with potential changes to national voting laws by including multiple provisions, such as same-day voter registration and no-excuse voting by mail, which were included in the For the People Act, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.

The Legislature previously enacted legislation to temporarily extend vote-by-mail and early voting options through December 15, 2021.

In the 2020 general election, more people voted than ever before in Massachusetts. Approximately 3.66 million residents cast ballots, totaling 76% of all registered voters. Voters took advantage of new voting options: 42% of voters voted by mail and another 23% voted in person 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.

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 individuals who are incarcerated in registering, applying for and returning mail ballots.

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 will debate and vote on the VOTES Act during a formal session on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.