by Kathryn Carley, Commonwealth News Service
Voting rights advocates in Massachusetts are applauding Governor Maura Healey’s budgetary backing of new policies stemming from last year’s passage of the VOTES Act. The law expands early voting options and allows all voters to cast their ballot by mail for any reason, but some municipalities are struggling to handle the expansion of mail-in voting for local springtime elections, citing a lack of personnel.
Common Cause of Massachusetts Executive Director Geoff Foster said timing of the governor’s funding could not be better.
“Lack of resources or staff hopefully shouldn’t be the reason why municipalities are opting out of what’s a really valuable expansion to our voting laws,” he said.
Healy has dedicated $5 million for grants to cities and towns to more easily manage ballot requests. 37% of Massachusetts voters cast their ballots by mail in last year’s midterm elections.
Registered voters will now receive a letter in the mail each year offering the chance to opt in to mail-in voting, which can also be done online. Foster said the policy aims to improve turnout among those who may struggle with child care, work multiple jobs or those with physical challenges.
“To be able to bring democracy literally home to your kitchen table potentially to fill out a mail ballot at home at a time that that works for you, I mean that’s just a win all around for our democracy,” Foster said.
There is still work to be done, Foster said. The VOTES Act changed the cut-off date for voter registration from twenty days prior to an election to ten days, but voting advocates say they will continue to push for same-day voter registration. With some 150 bills meant to restrict voter access already introduced nationwide this year, voting advocates say Massachusetts is on the right track.