Bill Ensuring Mail-In Ballots, Early Voting Heads To Baker

BOSTON (AP) — A voting rights bill that would ensure mail-in ballots and early voting become permanent fixtures in future elections is headed to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's desk after the Massachusetts House voted 126-29 to approve the measure on Thursday.

The vote comes a week after the Senate voted 37-3 in favor of the proposal.

The bill would also increase ballot access for voters with disabilities and service members overseas. It would make sure eligible voters who are incarcerated can request a mail-in ballot and take steps to modernize the state’s election administration process.

The voting options proved popular in Massachusetts during the 2020 election at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation is a compromise version of separate bills approved earlier by House and Senate lawmakers.

The final bill does not include any provisions that would let individuals both register and vote on Election Day.

The bill would let registered voters vote by mail for any presidential, state or municipal primary or election; set aside 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; and move the voter registration deadline from 20 to 10 days before a preliminary, primary, or general election.

“On the same day that our national government is telecasting hearings relative to the Jan. 6 attack our nation’s capital caused by alleged election fraud, we here in Massachusetts are making it easier than ever before for eligible voters to exercise their franchise,” said Democratic state Rep. Daniel Ryan, House chairperson of the Committee on Election Laws.

The bill would also require the secretary of state to send out mail-in ballot applications, with return postage guaranteed, to registered voters 45 days before any state election while also hosting an online portal where voters can request ballots in multiple languages. It also provides for electronic voting options for overseas voters including military personnel.

Critics have questioned whether some of the changes are constitutional, but voting rights advocates said the bill is key to ensuring access to the ballot.

“At a time when so many other rights are under attack nationwide, Massachusetts must do all it can to strengthen our democracy and improve access to the ballot box,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said after the compromise bill was released.

More than 3.6 million residents cast ballots in the state’s 2020 general election, totaling 76% of all registered voters. Of those, 42% voted by mail in the general election. Another 23% voted during early voting windows.

Baker hasn’t said whether he plans to sign or veto the legislation.