Massachusetts Allows Delay of Local Elections
Towns can postpone local elections this spring to help residents avoid the coronavirus, thanks to a law signed Monday night by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Spring is local election season for towns throughout Massachusetts, and town officials have been keeping a wary eye on the trajectory of the pandemic as the time to cast ballots – not typically an action associated with worldwide social distancing recommendations – looms closer.
Elections scheduled on or before May 30 may be postponed, according to a notice from the Secretary of State’s Office, and ballots printed with the original date may be used. Elections must be held by June 30.
Several voting rights activists praised the idea, but criticized the law for not going far enough.
“Yesterday’s bill is a strong first step. However, there is no guarantee that the coronavirus crisis will have receded by September 1, when Massachusetts state primaries are scheduled, or even for the November elections,” a press release attributed to six voting rights groups read. “The Election Modernization Coalition urges the Legislature to recognize that this crisis is of indeterminate length, and that we must also act quickly to ensure that the fall’s elections take place as scheduled, maximize participation, and maintain public health. To that end, the Legislature must protect the ability of all eligible voters to cast ballots from home in all elections, and ensure that in-person voting is as safe and participatory as possible.”
The six groups were Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Progressive Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Voter Table.
Under the new law, absentee ballots already cast will be valid, and anyone who voted absentee will not need to vote again.
A few local municipalities already took measures to postpone their local elections and Town Meetings.
Town Meetings are not addressed in the state legislation, but town moderators have the ability to postpone them for 30 days. Annual Town Meetings are also regularly held in the spring, and require hundreds of residents to be in close proximity to vote.
Hopkinton and Wayland selectmen voted in separate meetings on March 17 to postpone their Town Meetings, and to ask the state Legislature to draft special legislation delaying their spring town elections.
Hopkinton planned to bump its Town Meeting to June 22, and the town election to later in the year. Both were scheduled for May. Wayland voted to push its March 31 election to no later than mid-October, and its April 5 election was pushed no more than 30 days.
Natick made similar moves the day before, on March 16, pushing its April 14 Town Meeting to May 12, and asking the state to reschedule its March 31 town election to later in the year.
On Tuesday, Milford scheduled an emergency, remote meeting for noon on Wednesday, to discuss and potentially vote on the possible rescheduling of the annual town election.
The law does not require postponement. Baker’s Monday order requiring non-essential businesses to work remotely exempted elections personnel.
People taking precautions against COVID-19 can vote absentee, according to the Secretary of State’s office, and early voting – which requires no excuse – will be allowed by mail.