Massachusetts voters will be able to cast their ballots early beginning in 2016, under a new law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday. “Whenever we have a law that expands access to the ballot and makes it easier for people to register and to vote, it makes our democracy better,” Patrick said moments after signing the law, surrounded by legislators and voting reform activists. The election reform law allows for early voting in biennial statewide elections, starting 11 business days before an election and ending two business days before Election Day. The law also establishes online voter registration and requires the Secretary of State’s office to develop a tool that lets voters check their registration status and their polling location online. The law allows 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, although they will not be allowed to cast a ballot until they turn 18.
It requires audits of 3 percent of precincts during presidential election years, in order to ensure that voting machines are working correctly. It also establishes an Election Laws Task Force, which will work to pin down the cost and administrative requirements of early voting and will examine other voting-related issues such as the feasibility of same-day voter registration. The law also requires Secretary of State William Galvin’s office to review existing laws relating to residency requirements.
Though the Senate’s version of the bill had included same-day voter registration, that provision was not included in the final law. Lawmakers also rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment to require voter identification at the polls. Although Massachusetts already had absentee balloting, an absentee voter needed to certify that they will be out of town on Election Day; they are incapacitated; or their religious beliefs prohibit voting on a particular day.