Early Voting/No Excuse Absentee Voting

Summary

S12 – Amends provisions of the MA Constitution by essentially allowing unlimited voting by absentee ballot. In addition, for 10 days prior to an election, qualified voters are to be allowed to vote at any polling place, regardless of whether it’s in the voter’s district.

H615, H650, S327 - Amends Massachusetts General Laws by inserting a new section authorizing early voting; authorizes any qualified voter to cast a ballot prior to election day for any state election; Authorizes municipalities to allow early voting for local elections at their discretion; establishes the regulations governing early voting

Lead Sponsor

Senate President Therese Murray (Constitutional Amendment)

Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Representative Marty Walsh, Senator Barry Fingold (Early Voting Bills)

Background

This year, Senate President Therese Murray has made it a priority to remove barriers to absentee voting and allow early voting in Massachusetts  (S12). There are also a number of bills in the legislature to allow early voting (H615, H650, S327). The main differences in the bills lie in differing interpretations of the state constitution.

Because the state constitution refers to “Election Day”, many advocates and legislators believe that it would take a constitutional amendment to allow early voting, because we can only have one “Election Day”. Other advocates argue that “Election Day” is more a term of art than anything else, and that multiple days for each election are currently allowed by the constitution.

At the same time, the Constitution is clear with respect to absentee voting.   The current law only allows voters to cast absentee ballots in person or by mail if they are out of town or unable to get to the polls because of a physical disability or religious restriction.  To make a change would require a constitutional amendment which must be passed by two successive legislatures and the voters through a ballot initiative – a long and arduous process that cannot be completed until at least 2016 for implementation in 2017.

Currently, 32 state’s have some form of early voting, and very few state’s have absentee voting restrictions as stringent as the Commonwealth. Indeed 27 states have no excuse absentee balloting.

Read Common Cause’s Summary

With long lines a persistent problem in some areas of the state, particularly in presidential election years, it is time to expand the number of hours available for voting.  However, it is important to note that while early or no excuse absentee voting may be more convenient and reduce some lines, these efforts have not been shown to increase turnout.

Progressive Massachusetts continues to support all efforts to enact early voting, either through a constitutional amendment or simple legislation.  However, because of the increased impact on turnout, we favor adding Election Day Registration which does not require a constitutional amendment.

Status of bills

A bill for a constitutional amendment has been heard and reported favorably. A bill for legislation to allow early voting has been heard by the Election Laws Committee, but they have yet to take action.

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