Legislation authorizes early voting and other election reforms
Representative Paul J. Donato (D-Medford, Malden) joined his colleagues in the Legislature to pass a comprehensive election laws bill that will authorize early voting for biennial state elections starting in 2016. With the Governor’s final approval, Massachusetts will become the 33rd state in the nation to allow early voting. The bill also creates an online voter registration system and will allow 16 and 17-year olds to preregister to vote in the Commonwealth for the first time.
“Massachusetts has a rich history of civic involvement and I believe this legislation will foster a more vigorous, inclusive and just elections process,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This bill improves voting efficiency and helps give citizens across the Commonwealth a voice. I thank Senate President Murray, Chairman Murphy, Chairman Finegold and my colleagues in the Legislature for their comprehensive and forward-thinking work on such an important topic.”
“This bill will increase voter participation and civic engagement”, said Representative Paul J. Donato. “I am proud to have supported this legislation that was crafted in a bipartisan process”.
Early voting for biennial state elections will begin 11 business days before an election and end at the close of the polls two business days before the election. The Secretary of State will disseminate regulations regarding the process for establishing additional early voting locations and for applying for, receiving, separating, compiling, recording and securing early voter ballots.
The bill requires the Secretary to create an online voter registration system as well as an online tool where voters can check their voter registration status and inform them of their polling place. Any voter registered in a political designation that does not run a candidate on the ballot now will be considered unenrolled for the purposes of the primary and will receive a ballot of a political party of one’s choosing.
The bill also does the following:
- Requires municipal election officials to attend annual trainings given by the Secretary of State regarding applicable state and federal election laws, and the training must be offered at no cost to the municipality or individual;
- Requires the Secretary of State to create a waiver system to allow cities and towns to request permission to hire fewer election officers than currently required in the General Laws;
- Clarifies that the police detail requirement at polling locations does not apply to early voting sites, but a city or town may opt to detail police officers at its own expense;
- Eliminates the requirement for a cancellation device on voting machines – Massachusetts is the only state with this requirement; and
- Requires the Secretary of State to conduct a study to review existing laws with regard to residency requirements for purposes of voting and report to the Legislature by August 1, 2015.
The bill was signed by the Governor and is now Chapter 111 of the Acts of 2014.
- Submitted by State Representative Paul Donato