Jun 22, 2022 - News

Massachusetts governor signs bill making mail-in voting permanent

Illustration of a mailbox covered in "I Voted" stickers. 
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Massachusetts voters will soon be able to cast their ballots by mail, like they did for the first time during the 2020 elections.

Driving the news: Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed into law an elections reform package that makes mail-in voting a permanent option in Massachusetts, days after the legislature overwhelmingly passed the proposal.

Why it matters: Mail-in voting opens the option to cast ballots to people who can't get to the polls because of work, travel, caregiving and other responsibilities.

  • With mail-in voting, people with physical disabilities or at heightened risk for COVID-19 and other illnesses don't have to vote in person.

State of play: Mail-in voting will be available in time for the biggest statewide elections this fall, including the races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor.

Context: Despite the pandemic, more than 3.6 million Massachusetts voters cast ballots in 2020, breaking turnout records set in 2016.

  • Lawmakers had approved mail-in voting on a temporary basis amid the pandemic, but after multiple extensions, the option expired last December.
  • Massachusetts had more than 4.7 million registered voters as of last February, with more than half of them unenrolled — unaffiliated with any political party — according to the secretary of state's website.

Zoom out: Baker's signature comes as other Republican leaders have approved voting restrictions in other parts of the country.

  • Six Republican-led state legislatures passed bills in the first half of 2022 that voting rights activists say make it harder for people to vote, according to the Brennan Center.

How it works: Voters will receive mail-in ballot applications several weeks before an election, and those interested have to mail back the application by 5pm of the fifth day before the election in order to receive a mail-in ballot, according to the legislation.

  • Local election officials must also accept letters, emails or other documents from voters requesting mail-in ballots.
  • Election officials must receive mail-in ballots by 5pm on the third day after the election for them to be counted.

Plus: The law expands the number of days people can vote early at the polls, and drops the deadline to register to vote from the 20th day before the election to the 10th day.

  • It also mandates that correctional officials implement policies that ensure prisoners who are eligible to vote can access vote-by-mail applications, ballots and other materials while in jail.

Yes, but: The bill does not implement same-day registration, as voting advocates hoped it would.

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