In light of the COVID-19 crisis, voting rights groups want the state to make it easier to vote by mail.
The Massachusetts legislature recently passed a bill to make fear of going out in public due to COVID-19 a valid reason to request an absentee ballot. However, it only applies until June, and advocates want it extended through November.
Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for the nonprofit MassVote, said he expects a second bill to do just that will be introduced by July.
“There hasn’t been much partisan pushback at this point,” he said. “The legislature passed the legislation pretty swiftly a couple weeks ago, but we have a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Until recently, the only acceptable reasons for requesting an absentee ballot included plans to be out of town on Election Day, a physical disability, or religious reasons. Democrats in Congress are pushing for national vote-by-mail reforms, but have met with Republican resistance to imposing any voting rules on the states.
Psilakis said he thinks Massachusetts should follow the leads of multiple other states and allow any voter to register to receive mail-in ballots for all future elections.
“For somebody to cast their vote in a safe, secure manner, there cannot be any excuse requirement to cast an absentee ballot,” he said. “There should be no excuse required.”
It would take an amendment to the state constitution to switch entirely over to “no-excuse” voting.
Psilakis said the Election Modernization Coalition, which also includes the ACLU, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, would like to see lawmakers begin that lengthy process by next session, in 2021.
The recent bill on elections and COVID-19, S. 2608, is online at malegislature.gov.
Suzanne Potter is a journalist with 30 years of experience as a reporter for TV, radio and print news. She spent 15 years as a local TV news reporter in Palm Springs, CA and Providence, RI. She currently covers public policy California, producing radio and print stories for Public News Service.