WESTFORD — Permanent mail-in voting is coming to Massachusetts — but what does that mean for Westford voters?
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 signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on June 22, 2022.
Westford looks to adapt to new law
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.”
She clarified that registered voters will receive mail-in ballot applications if they were registered at least 60 days before an election.
“They’re sending an application where you can request a mail-in ballot,” she said. “People can request mail-in ballot but then vote in person. You just have to check with us first to confirm it [on the state database].”
She affirmed that her office, as well as the Secretary of State’s office, maintains multiple checks and balances to prevent any errors.
“We have a state database,” she said. “When we send out a ballot, we indicate that this person received a mail-in ballot. We check them off when the ballot is sent and when the ballot is received by our office on the database.”
In addition to maintaining election integrity through her bookkeeping, Westford maintains a singular ballot drop box at Town Hall. According to Dubey, the box remains locked, is emptied daily and is under 24-hour vide surveillance to prevent tampering.
Dubey did note that the new regulations provide more options for voters, while expanding and protecting existing options.
“I had people who weren’t happy with [mail-in ballots] and wanted to go to the polls. That option is still open. It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “You can vote early in person too, which we have to set up for that. You can register at the same time you want to vote early.”
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.”
Law challenged in court
A lawsuit filed by Jim Lyons, chairman of the state Republican party and others seeks to overturn the new regulations.
The MassGOP argues 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 court is expected to issue a decision ahead of the September primary.
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