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Massachusetts

Massachusetts has the opportunity to further strengthen its election system by codifying temporary 2020 reforms and implementing other voter-centric reforms. Massachusetts should pass legislation to establish a permanent absentee voting list, codify no-excuse absentee voting and the prepaid postage guarantee, and permit same day voter registration. Additionally, we suggest implementing risk-limiting audits, joining ERIC, improving ballot tracking, and extending the cure process deadline to decrease rejection rates and increase voter confidence. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

Massachusetts should continue its progress in expanding mail voting by passing legislation to make no-excuse absentee voting permanent. This would give citizens the opportunity to vote in whichever manner they find safest and most convenient.
Massachusetts can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by creating a permanent absentee voting list, on which voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply. Massachusetts currently allows voters (who are also eligible to vote absentee) to opt-in to a one-year absentee list. However, the State should expand this option to all voters and make the list truly permanent, rather than annual. States that transition to fully permanent lists benefit financially by decreasing the number of requests it must regularly process.
Creating an online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot, like the one launched temporarily in 2020, not only makes it much more convenient for voters, it also would be a boon to election officials. The system could be built to feed directly into the voter registration system to help verify addresses, collect contact information, and to remove administrative steps (and costs!) to process a large amount of requests. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register, current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
Massachusetts established drop boxes for the 2020 election cycle, but should make them a permanent fixture in future elections; drop boxes reduce strain on the postal system and are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want reassurance that their ballot will make it to the elections office on time. We also recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling places and other locations clerks deem necessary.
While Massachusetts has passed H 4820 to prepay postage for the 2020 elections, the state should make prepaid postage permanent for all future elections. Guaranteeing prepaid postage is a voter-centric reform that removes an economic barrier to voting.
Accepting ballots with Election Day postmarks is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner. Accepting Election Day postmarks is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half. Massachusetts already has an Election Day postmark acceptance policy for military and overseas voters; we recommend that it adopt such a policy for all voters. In addition, we suggest that, not only does a state allow the physical postmark on a ballot, but also to integrate into the USPS system for electronic postmarks to serve as validation that a ballot was mailed on time.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost effective tool to improve Massachusetts’ current ballot tracking system by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence and participation.
Voters should have sufficient time to correct any issues with their ballot In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected. Massachusetts’ current cure deadline of the day before election day leaves many voters behind. As more voters use absentee ballots and, understandably, the number of rejected absentee ballots increases, we recommend implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.

Recent Legislation

As of May 26, 2021

Massachusetts made significant progress in expanding access to the ballot in 2020, passing H. 4820 which prescribed many vote-at-home procedures for the 2020 election cycle: It mandated the establishment of ballot drop boxes and permitted depositing ballots at municipal clerks’ offices, authorized the mailing of mail-in ballot application forms to all registered voters. It also created an online absentee request portal (though only for 2020). Lastly, it guaranteed prepaid postage and stated that ballots must be postmarked by election day and received before the polls’ closure to be counted.

During its 2021 session, the Legislature passed H 73, which extended the ability to get a mail vallot without an excuse to elections in 2021. The State has not yet passed any bills that would codify these temporary reforms; however, as of July 2021 the Legislature is considering dozens of bills, many of which would make these reforms permanent. Since the session doesn’t end until November, there’s still time for many of these to pass through the process and become law.