Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing whether to take some of the voting changes adopted at the height of the pandemic — including the broad use of mail-in voting — and make them permanent.
The state took that step and others — including expanding the use of early voting and ballot drop boxes — to help diminish the pandemic health risk of voters crowding polling locations.
Many of those changes proved popular, leading to a push to write them into state law.
“The pandemic is coming to an end and we have to think about whether we want to make some of these changes permanent,” said Democratic state Sen. Barry Finegold, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws.
Finegold made his comments Wednesday during a public hearing on more than two dozen voting-related bills including a sweeping proposal dubbed an Act Fostering Voter Opportunities Trust, Equity, and Security or the VOTES bill co-sponsored by more than 100 lawmakers.
The bill would expand early and mail-in voting, establish same-day registration and help eligible voters who are incarcerated cast ballots. Those convicted of felonies would still be barred from voting.
Among those supporting the changes is Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.
“The 2020 election in Massachusetts was a remarkable success,” Galvin said during the hearing, pointing to high turnout and results he said were prompt and reliable.
Galvin said he supports many of the proposals including no-excuse voting by mail for all elections, expanding early in-person voting in general and primary elections, allowing same-day registration on Election Day, and expanding the use of drop boxes.
“This is not a partisan thing. We had many Republicans who voted by mail last time,” Galvin said, “This is a citizenship thing, not a partisanship thing.”
The debate in Massachusetts comes as many other states are weighing efforts to place limitations on access to the ballot.
One of the supporters of the bill, Democratic Sen. Cynthia Creem, said there is an element of racial justice in expanding access to the vote.
“At this time in our country’s history we know now more than ever how expanding voter participation is critical to ensuring that all voices are heard,” she said. “And with some states increasingly looking to suppress voter turnout this is the time for Massachusetts to be a leader.”
The bill has the backing of many civil rights and voting rights organizations.
“It is crucial for Massachusetts to set an example as a state moving to increase, not decrease, access to the polls and secure elections,” said Pattye Comfort, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
Not everyone supports the proposed changes, arguing the goal should be to return to pre-pandemic voting rules, with an emphasis on in-person voting.
“In only a matter of days, Massachusetts will have virtually no pandemic-related restrictions left. All of the New England states are now moving toward this shared goal. Voters should get used to daily life returning to normal and that includes in-person voting by next year’s elections,” Paul Diego Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a written statement.
Lawmakers are also considering whether the state should join a network operated by the Electronic Registration Information Center intended to help elections officials more efficiently update voter registration records so the same person does not have multiple records across jurisdictions.
Other bills under consideration would require a voting location within a mile of colleges campuses, require two hours of paid leave from jobs to allow workers to vote, require ballots mailed Election Day to be counted if they arrive up to 10 days later, and explore the possibility of voting by mobile device for disabled citizens or members of the military serving overseas.