Bill to allow towns to postpone local elections heads to governor

The Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill Monday allowing municipalities to postpone 2020 local elections, push back voter registration deadlines, and increase voting options while Massachusetts is in a state of emergency, according to the State House News Service (SHNS). The bill awaits Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature.

The bill, S.2608, states that town selectmen may vote any day prior to their originally scheduled town meeting and postpone to a date on or before June 30, 2020. 

The bill comes as towns on the Island grapple with when to hold their annual town meetings. Tisbury has restricted public meetings, including town meeting, in public spaces through May 1, West Tisbury decided to postpone its town meeting until May 12, and Chilmark postponed its town meeting until May 26. Oak Bluffs selectmen informed residents at a March 16 meeting they would be postponing their annual town meeting and election, but were waiting for clarification from the state, which may now be on its way.

Town meeting is the legislative branch of town government. It’s an open meeting, which allows any registered voter to weigh in on key issues, including the town budget. The meeting and voters set the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Lawmakers are also preparing to advance a separate “safety net” bill Monday, according to SHNS. The bill would protect renters and homeowners from the growing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. No details were given on the bill. 

“This legislation, which is currently being prepared, will provide a crucial safety net for renters and homeowners as we all grapple with the immediate economic fallout of this unprecedented public health pandemic,” a joint statement from House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka said Sunday.