House passes early voting bill

The House has a approved a bill allowing early voting by mail for the primary and general election. —Gabrielle Mannino

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed extensive legislation to facilitate 2020 elections during the coronavirus pandemic, according to State House News Service (SHNS).

The bill, H. 4768, outlines processes for absentee voting, early voting by mail, and in-person voting, while also addressing public health and safety measures at polling locations.

If enacted, Secretary of State William Galvin will mail all registered voters applications to vote early by mail. By July 15, all registered voters will be mailed an application to early-vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary. The deadline to apply to vote early would be August 25. By Sept. 14, voters will be mailed an application to vote by mail, with an Oct. 27 deadline for the Nov. 3 general election. Applications to vote early will include a return envelope with prepaid postage, and can be submitted electronically.

The bill also covers early voting in person. Voters would be able to cast an early vote in person for the primary from August 22 to 28. For the general election, two weeks of early in-person voting would be established from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30.

Voters will also be able to vote in person on Election Day.

Early voting for local elections will also be allowed for cities and towns holding elections at the same time as the primary or general elections.

Safety measures covered in the bill include social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings with PPE, frequent use of sanitizers, and sanitary use of marking pens.

“Voting is a right, and must be protected so that everyone can safely cast their ballot during this pandemic,” state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told SHNS. “This vote-by-mail system, coupled with expanded early voting and smart reforms to in-person voting, will help ensure access to the ballot box.”

Fernandes also co-sponsored an amendment to the bill that requires the state to send vote-by-mail applications to a resident’s mailing address, a vital decision for many residents of Martha’s Vineyard who get mail only via P.O. boxes.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.