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Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 1 to June 5, 2020

By BOB KATZEN


The House and Senate continued to hold remote sessions with just a few members in the chambers to avoid spreading COVID-19. Most members listened to the debates from their homes or business offices through their computers, and voted via phone.


Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls for the week of June 1 to June 5. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.


Make it easier to vote by mail (H 4768)

House, 155 to 1, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would direct Secretary of State William Galvin to send applications for a mail-in ballot to every registered voter by July 15 for the Sept. 1 primary and by Sept. 14 for the Nov. 3 general election. The bill also includes expanded in-person early voting options for voters prior to the elections.


Other provisions include a reduction from 20 to 10 in the number of days before the date of the election that a person must register to vote; allowing local election officials to process mail ballots before election day in a central location; providing return postage for ballots and applications for ballots; setting Aug. 25 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary and Oct. 27 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election; providing for electronic signature and submission of early voting by mail applications; providing for absentee voting by any person taking precaution related to COVID-19; and requiring Secretary of State William Galvin in conjunction with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health to establish emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and personal protective equipment.


“COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges to our election administration in the commonwealth,” said Election Laws Committee Chair John Lawn, D-Watertown. “We have worked closely with legislators, advocates, city and town clerks and various stakeholders to draft bipartisan legislation that will protect both the health and safety of our voters and the integrity of our democracy by ensuring that all voices are heard.”


“Today the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed by a nearly unanimous vote a very strong reform to our election laws,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, which has fought hard for the bill. “The legislation will allow every voter who wants to vote from the safety of his or her own home (the ability) to do so. The House has recognized the urgency of passing legislation to help protect our fall elections and moved quickly to help keep voters safe.”


“We applaud the House for swiftly passing ... the bill, with the included amendments (that) introduces robust reforms that strengthen our elections in light of COVID-19, and deserve to be permanently implemented moving forward,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE.


Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, the lone opponent of the bill, spoke to her concern about the manpower needed in the clerk’s offices, especially in smaller communities.


“The expense of the expansion of the mailings and the need for more elections personnel on longer early voting days and the possibility of fraud (is why I voted against the bill),” Garry explained. “I heard loudly from my constituents that they did not agree with this proposal.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes


More time to register to vote (H 4768)

House, 144 to 12, approved an amendment that would shorten the voter registration blackout period for the 2020 elections by reducing from 20 to 10 the number of days before the date of the election that a person must register to vote.


“The goals of (the bill) is to make voting as accessible and as safe for all in the midst of COVID-19,” said Rep. Patricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, the sponsor of the amendment. By closing this blackout period, we have taken an incremental, but important step in making voting more accessible. Twenty days is much too long. It is our hope that the 10-day cutoff is made permanent; and/or what would be much better: we achieve our goal of election day registration.”


Opponents offered no arguments on the House floor. There was no response from several of the amendment’s opponents despite repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to get a statement regarding why they voted against the amendment.


A “Yes” vote is for reducing the days to 10.


Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes


Election day registration (H 4768)

House, 16 to 139, rejected an amendment that would allow voters to register to vote at the polls on election day. Under current law, a person must register at least 20 days before the date of the election.


“Election day voter registration is the ultimate way to ensure that every voter is enfranchised,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “It falls to the Legislature to make voting as easy and accessible as possible to as many as possible, particularly our constituents who spend more time worrying about how they are going to pay their bills than if their voter registration is up-to-date or turned in. The need and the urgency for us to make things as easy and straightforward for the average person has never been more pressing than in the era of COVID-19.”


“I spoke with the clerks several times throughout the bill drafting process to understand their needs and provide solutions that will make the 2020 elections fair and safe for everyone,” said Election Laws Committee Chair John Lawn, D-Watertown. “We believe that the final bill does just that and, overwhelmingly, my colleagues agree. While considering the new technology that clerks will be using, the great increase in processing mail-in ballots and our heavy reliance on senior poll workers, we feel that election day registration would be an added stress and may lead to potentially longer lines at the polls, making it more challenging to keep our voters and election officials healthy and safe.”


A “Yes” vote is for allowing people to register on election day. A “No” is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No


This roundup first appeared on the Greenfield Recorder.com


View the full rundown here.



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