On October 6, Senator Jason Lewis joined colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to pass S.2545, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act). This comprehensive voting reform bill permanently codifies the popular 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.
“Voting is a bedrock constitutional right for every citizen, and that’s why it’s vital that we apply the lessons of pandemic-era elections reforms to usher in a new period of strong ballot access and voter empowerment,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “In addition to establishing same-day voter registration, a standard in-person early voting period, and other important reforms, I’m particularly pleased that the VOTES Act will allow permanent no-excuse mail-in voting. Vote-by-mail has been a top priority for me ever since the 2020 elections proved that it is a secure, reliable and convenient way for many voters to exercise their franchise, and that’s why I filed legislation this session similar to the mail-in voting provision of the VOTES Act.”
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.
- Through inclusion of an amendment, 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
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 passage of the VOTES Act follows previous action by the state legislature to temporarily extend vote-by-mail and early voting options through December 15, 2021.
The VOTES Act now advances on to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for further consideration.