The big question in 2020 is how can everyone vote safely?
Update June 9, 2020:
Safe voting remains a question. Massachusetts legislators and Secretary of State Galvin are working hard implement Vote by Mail, extend early voting and add some weekend voting hours at the polling sites. On June 4, 2020, House Bill 4768 was passed and engrossed (To engross a bill is to pass it and send it to the other branch). This bill instructs the Secretary of State to mail all voters an application for a Vote By Mail ballot. It also extends early voting hours.
Rep. Kay Khan added an amendment to accommodate disabilities which was adopted on Friday, June 4: malegislature.gov/Bills/GetAmendmentContent/191/H4768/15/House/content This amendment allows a voter who needs an accommodation to vote by mail to request an accommodation. The amendment also requires the Secretary of State to grant accommodations that include, but are not limited to, a blank, electronic ballot that can be filled electronically and then printed. The concerns associated with the ballot are the need for the electronic system to be accessible and the need for accommodations for people that do not have access to a printer.
Here is the status as of May 19, 2020.
Massachusetts, like many other states, is scrambling to make sure Vote by Mail will be available for the upcoming September and November elections. On Thursday, May 14, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws held a virtual hearing to hear bills relative to election administration in response to COVID-19. Some of the options provided by these election bills are summarized below. Each option includes extended days for early voting at location(s) in each city or town. The bills aim to provide a safe voting environment for many voters, but not for all voters with disabilities.
- S2654 – Senator Rausch: This Act would establish vote by mail in 2020. A ballot package would be mailed out to every registered voter; an electronic web portal would allow voters unenrolled in a political party to request a primary election ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; a person with a physical disability or a non-English speaker could ask for help in filling out the ballot; and, ballots would be certified and mailed in. H4699 – Representative Roy: This bill mirrors Senator Rausch’s bill on the House side.
- S2653 – Senator Creem: This Act relates to voting by mail and early voting Election law. Any qualified voter who wants to vote early can file an application or send in a written request for an early voting ballot; ballots are mailed out by local election officials; and, an early voting ballot can be substituted for an absentee ballot.
While these bills were specifically listed on the MA Joint Committee on Election Laws Hearing website, Representative Roy has also filed H4721 which has been referred to the committee on election laws by the House and Senate. This bill sets out to do the following:
- H4721 – Representative Roy: This Act relates to early voting and voting by mail in 2020. The Secretary of State would be required to mail out an application packet to every registered voter at the address listed in the registry no less than 40 days in advance of a schedule state primary OR state election; the packet would contain an application for an early vote by mail ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; and, any qualified voter wanting to early vote by mail would be allowed to file with the voter’s local election official an application for an early voting ballot for the 2020 State Primary and / or General State Election. The Act requires the Secretary of State to implement a system for receiving requests for voting by mail, both electronically via web portal and in hard copy via postal mail. The Act also sets up early voting time frames and in-person voting hours that provides an opportunity to vote, in person, at least one evening each week and one Saturday during both the primary and state election. Finally, the Act states that no later than twenty-eight days before every primary, preliminary election or election, the city or town clerk shall send to each voter whose name appears on the permanently disabled voters’ list an application for an absent voting ballot, and the clerk would be able to complete the application as much as possible except for the voter’s signature.
Questions & concerns with these proposals and the health/safety of voters are:
- Should the state or towns mail out applications and ballots? The state has more resources to accomplish this task and would provide consistency across the state. However, most aspects of voting have always been at the local level.
- How will towns handle this huge wave of envelopes? Will additional poll workers be hired to process mail in votes?
- Who will pay for the additional costs of mailings and expense of additional town workers?
- Can the post office handle the volume of mail-in ballots? The post office has been under attack and is a key component in all of these proposals.
- How can the AutoMark machine be kept safe and sanitized on an ongoing basis if in person voting is allowed?
- Being that in person voting will also be allowed, how will the polling sites be staffed? How will social distancing requirements be enforced? How do we accommodate people with disabilities under the new CDC safety guidelines?
- Are there enough supplies in the supply chain to enable local municipalities to abide by CDC & DPH guidelines to regularly clean the polling sites, the equipment?
- Who will work with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Department of Public Health to make sure that guidance for town clerks are redeveloped to include public health guidelines?
Voting mechanisms in other states:
- Voting Apps for people with disabilities and overseas voters
- Drive By voting
Voters with disabilities:
The current legislative proposals do not address accessibility concerns for visually impaired voters and voters who are unable to vote independently. While the AutoMark machine accommodates and provides independence to voters with disabilities, COVID-19 will make it physically impossible for voters to use the machine as an accommodation. In some states, electronic voting has been implemented (where a voter could use their screen reader or other assistive device to vote on their home computer or phone). However, there needs to be an accessible alternative available to voting in person during COVID-19. People who are blind should have equal access to the ballot and should be able to vote independently in an accessible format. Remote accessible formats allow blind voters to vote independently while safely abiding with social distancing requirements. It is imperative for MA to move quickly during the next six (6) weeks in order to ensure an electronic, accessible voting system for blind registered voters.
While the adoption of vote by mail and extended early voting, will reduce crowds at polling sites and will technically , make in-person voting on AutoMark machines safer, the disability community should not be required to put their health and safety in peril while non-disabled voters are allowed to vote from home. Voters with disabilities should not be disenfranchised from the voting process due to inaccessible mail in ballots. It is up to Massachusetts to protect the health and welfare of all of its voters and not just some.
On May 14, Senator
Barry Finegold held a hearing on Vote by mail and 3 proposed bills (malegislature.gov). The 4 hour hearing
is still available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BarryFinegoldMA.
Disability issues were brought up at the hearing.
Voting as usual will certainly not be safe in
September, and is unlikely to be safe in November, so legislators have to agree