DUE TO THE coronavirus pandemic, all Massachusetts residents who wish to do so will be allowed to vote by mail this year.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed a bill that will vastly expand early voting by mail, while maintaining the option for voters to cast ballots in person on Election Day.
Here’s what you need to know about voting this year.
When is the election?
The state primary is September 1 and the general election is November 3.
Can I vote early?
Yes. Early voting will be available in both the primary and general elections. In-person early voting for the primary will be from August 22-28, and for the general election from October 17-30.
There will be early voting on Saturday and Sunday Aug. 22-23 and October 17-18. The exact hours will depend on community size. Towns with fewer than 5,000 registered voters only have to offer weekend early voting for two hours a day, while cities with more than 75,000 voters must have eight hours of early voting each weekend day.
On weekdays, early voting will be offered during the city or town clerk’s usual business hours, though municipalities can extend hours beyond that.
Early voting locations will be determined by the city or town clerk by August 7 for the primary and by October 2 for the general election.
How can I request a ballot to vote by mail?
Secretary of State William Galvin will send out applications for mail-in ballots to every household by July 15 for the primary and by September 14 for the general elections. Voters can return those applications, and postage will be pre-paid. There will also be an option to request a ballot online. The application will also be available on Galvin’s website and on town and city clerks’ websites. Requests can also be made in writing or in person at a city or town clerk’s office.
Applications to get a ballot for the primary will need to be returned by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, August 26 and for the general election by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28.
How can I return my ballot?
Ballots can be mailed to city or town clerks, delivered in person to the clerks or placed in a municipal drop-box.
Ballots will have to be returned in person by the close of polls on Election Day.
As long as a general election ballot is mailed by November 3 and received by 5 p.m. on November 6, it will be counted.
Do I need a specific reason to vote early by mail?
No. Unlike typical absentee ballots which require a reason (such as being out of town on Election Day), this year anyone can vote early by mail.
Can I get a ballot in a language other than English?
Yes. Mail-in ballots can be requested in any language in which the ballot would typically be available at the voter’s polling place.
Will my early vote be counted early?
Under new rules intended to alleviate the administrative burden on clerks, early ballots can be fed into a tabulator machine as soon as they are received. But the votes will not be counted by the machine until the polls close on Election Day and no results will be announced before then.
Where can I vote in person on Election Day?
As is typical, polling locations will be determined by city and town election officials.
This year, polling places can be moved up to 20 days before an election for reasons of public health or convenience. Before moving a polling place, local officials will have to report on whether the change would have a disparate impact on voting access on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income or age.
Some municipalities could elect to have all wards vote in a single building, if public health or convenience would be served.
Will the process of in-person voting be different?
One possible difference is rather than checking in to get your ballot, then checking out before casting the ballot, there may be only the single table to check in.
The bill lets city or town clerks eliminate the check-out table, in order to reduce the number of in-person interactions and the number of poll workers needed.
The state will adopt regulations requiring public health safeguards at both early voting sites and polling places, including distancing of voters and election officers, use of sanitizers, personal protective equipment, and use of marking pens.
Do I still have to register to vote?
Yes, you must be registered to vote. You can register any time until 10 days before the election.
What if I get sick before the election?
Anyone hospitalized within a week of the election may have their ballot hand-delivered to the health care facility.
What if my town has a municipal election?
Early voting by mail will be an option for all elections held before December 31, 2020.