Massachusetts attorney general joins push for automatic vote-by-mail option due to pandemic

BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey joined a growing chorus on Thursday in the push for an automatic vote-by-mail system in the upcoming elections, citing the risk in-person voting might pose during a global pandemic.

"As we look ahead, we must address the inequities that this crisis has exposed," Healey tweeted. "That means mailing every voter a ballot for the 2020 elections."

A bill was filed earlier this month in the state Senate calling for voting by mail in the September primary and November general elections. It’s currently awaiting action in the Elections Committee.

Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Norfolk, Bristol, Middlesex) told Boston 25 News that her 2020 Vote-By-Mail Act is an attempt to rise to the needs of the moment.

"Even if we’re on the downside of the slope of the pandemic [in time for the September primary], people will still be rightfully concerned and fearful to go to the polls," Rausch said. "Free, fair and safely accessible elections are a cornerstone and a bedrock of our democracy. We cannot let, we must not let COVID-19 strip that away from us."

Rausch’s bill would automatically send every registered voter a ballot for the November general election. On the back of the postage-paid return envelope, voters would sign an affidavit similar to the one already on absentee ballots. The bill would also create a ballot tracking system that would serve to provide reassurance for both the state and voter, the senator said.

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For the primary election, every voter enrolled in a party would automatically be sent that party’s ballot. Due to Massachusetts law allowing unenrolled voters to vote for any party of their choice in the primary, those unenrolled voters would need to request a primary ballot and specify the party, Rausch said of her bill.

Secretary of State William Galvin, whose office oversees elections, declined to be interviewed until he files his own election legislation in early May, his office said.

“Our office is working to put together a legislative package which would expand access to mail-in ballots for those [who] want them and ensure that polling places are as safe as possible for those who need to vote in person in the fall,” Debra O’Malley, a Galvin spokesperson, said in a statement.

Rausch said her bill would not only keep the in-person voting option available for those who prefer it, but would also provide for personal protective equipment for poll workers to keep them safe. And automatically sending a ballot, rather than making it optional and waiting for requests, removes the burden from the voter to exercise their right and also removes the administrative burden from local clerks who would process those requests, she said.

“There’s a lot of work to do in order to make this happen,” Rausch said. "We cannot wait. Period.”

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