NATICK, MA — Following an election year when many Massachusetts residents got to vote by mail for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic, a Natick lawmaker is trying to make voting by mail permanent.
Democratic state Sen. Rebecca Rausch on Tuesday filed a bill to change state election law to expand no-excuse mail voting to voters in any state, municipal or special election.
Last spring, state lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker moved to expand mail-in voting during the first coronavirus wave. Many communities postponed spring elections until the summer, but mail-in voting was used heavily in the September primaries and the November election. About 40 percent of the 3.6 million residents used mail-in voting in November, according to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.
But that expansion expires on March 31. Absentee voting will still be available after that date, but only in limited circumstances: if you're away from home on Election Day or have a disability or religious belief that prevents you from going to the polls.
Rausch's bill not only expands mail-in voting to everyone, it also mandates infrastructure upgrades. Cities and towns would have to provide ballot drop boxes, and Galvin would have to create a dedicated portal where voters could register for mail-in status.
The bill would also grant permanent mail voting status to anyone who wants it. During the 2020 elections, voters had to request mail-in ballots before each election.
Rausch's bill would also allow clerks to place mail-in ballots into voting tabulator machines before Election Day — a key provision to prevent counting delays. In the September Democratic primary, the results of the 4th Congressional District were delayed by several days after about 3,000 mail-in votes in Franklin were misplaced.
Five U.S. states, including Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah, have all-mail voting. Many other states moved to offer mail-in voting during the pandemic.
"40 percent of eligible MA voters cast mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election," Rausch said in a tweet Tuesday. "Bay Staters want comprehensive election reform. With the MAIL-in Voting Act, I am more committed than ever to advancing equitable access to the ballot box."