For voters concerned about the safety of voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an alternative besides absentee or early voting.
In July, a new law was passed to allow all registered voters in Massachusetts to vote by mail in any 2020 election, with no excuse needed.
Whitman and Hanson town clerks said the applications were being mailed to all Massachusetts voters beginning Wednesday, July 15 for the state primary election Sept. 1.
“They’re mailing out applications on July 15 to every registered voter as of July 1 that has not already applied for an absentee ballot or an early voting ballot,” said Whitman Town Clerk Dawn Varley. “This is all new to us.”
Applications are mailed back to local clerks’ offices. Return postage of the ballot application is paid by the commonwealth.
“We send it out, they fill out the application for early ballot and it’s only good for this year,” said Hanson Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan. “Once we receive the ballots, we mail it out to the people and they have to get it back to us.”
Secretary of State William Galvin’s office has been great about updating security measures and providing clerks with direction on the issue.
As required by the new law, a Vote by Mail application will be mailed to every person who was registered to vote by July 1 and who had not already requested an absentee ballot for the State Primary or for all elections this year. A second mailing will be sent out in September to all voters who have not already applied for a Vote by Mail ballot for the November election. The applications are pre-addressed to your local election official and no postage is necessary.
Vote by Mail applications must be delivered to your local election office no later than four business days before the election. For a State Primary ballot, your application must reach your local election office no later than Aug. 26. For a State Election ballot, your application must reach your local election office no later than Oct. 28.
If you wish to vote by mail, you are strongly encouraged to return your application as early as possible, to make sure that you will receive your ballot in time to return it and have it be counted.
Vote by Mail applications are available for download and may also be requested by contacting the Elections Division.
Ballots and outer envelopes must be signed by voters under the pains and penalties of perjury, that the ballot inside is theirs,” Varley noted.
Sloan said she has not heard any concerns from voters on the security of voting by mail, but Varley said she has.
“I’ve had a lot of people comment about it — about [potential] fraud and, ‘what happens to my ballot?’” she said. “My answer is we are responsible town clerks. … I assure them that their ballots are kept in a secure place, that we don’t open them.”
She said people are most often concerned that their ballot will be looked at. Varley assured voters that her staff is not interested in looking at who a resident votes for — they just want people to vote.
Ballots are taken out to the tabulating machines in bulk and checked against voters’ names just as each voter would have to do at check-in tables. Absentee and early vote ballots are counted the same way.
“We have to record in the state system when we mail in the application,” she said. “We have to record in the state system when we mail a person the ballot. We have to record in the state system when we get the ballot from the person.”
After the ballots are mailed back the clerks’ offices alphabetize them and place them in the vault.
“They have to be opened in clear view in front of people,” she said. All envelopes and ballots have to be saved for a specific time in case a result is challenged.
“I haven’t heard if we can put them in [to machines] as we get them, but not tally,” Sloan said. “I know that was supposed to be part of the election law, but I don’t know if that got passed or not.”
She said Galvin’s office has been inundated with questions and has not provided complete direction on counting mail-in ballots yet.
“Of course, we’re not to that point yet, so we don’t have to worry about that part,” she said. “From what I understand, they were going to try to pass a law that we could put the ballots into the tabulator — but not tabulate them — so it would make our lives easier come election day, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.”
You can find more information on voting by mail on our Voting by Mail FAQs page.