WESTFORD — Mail-in ballot applications will soon be arriving to your mailbox ahead of a July 23 deadline.
Legislature passes the VOTES Act
“An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security” or VOTES Act aims to codify vote-by-mail and early voting measures passed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which became popular among Massachusetts voters in the 2020 election.
The legislature had temporarily expanded these options through Dec. 15, 2021, with the legislature unable to agree on a final version.
The House-Senate conference committee agreed to a bill that would permanently codify mail-in and early voting, as well as shortening the voter registration deadline from 20 days to 10 days before an election.
The bill was originally signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on June 22.
Supreme Judicial Court upholds law
A lawsuit filed by Jim Lyons, chairman of the state Republican party and others sought to overturn the new regulations. The MassGOP argued that the state constitution only allows people to cast absentee ballots in certain circumstances.
The party cites Article 105 of the state constitution, which explicitly allows absentee voting for three reasons — when a voter is out of town on Election Day, has a disability or a religious based conflict.
The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the new legislation on Monday, July 11 as the state election officials began to prepare to send more than 4.7 million ballot applications to voters by July 23.
Voters given more flexibility
The new law makes “no excuse” mail-in ballots and early voting permanent in Massachusetts, after pandemic-era measures expanded these offerings. Voters may now register up to 10 days in advance of an election, as opposed to the previous 20 day window.
The bill also increases accessibility for voters with disabilities, overseas service members and incarcerated persons.
Westford residents will receive their first application for the upcoming September Primary if they were registered to vote by July 8.
Westford Town Clerk Patty Dubey noted that the changes to voting procedures in 2020 allowed her team to prepare for challenges with the new regulations.
“ was mostly a trial run,” she told WestfordCAT. From an admin point of view it’s a lot more obvious how this works. It just rearranges how we work.”
Dubey said that her office has received higher turnout with the new voting options, but remained cautiously optimistic turnout for the upcoming elections this fall.
“It was my experience with it in 2020, I got a lot of positive feedback from people,” she said. “We used it, but in the Presidential election we had way more people vote by mail than everything else. This fall will be a little more telling.”
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