This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed a sweeping voting rights bill to expand access to our most important super power: our right to vote.
S.2545, An Act fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security (the VOTES Act) passed the Senate by a vote of 36 to 3.
I filed, built support for, and won two amendments which were laser focused on smaller cities and towns. I spoke to these amendments during debate. You can listen here: https://youtu.be/RJt4pU7y8t0.
Would I like to have seen this legislation go even further? Absolutely. However, strengthened by amendments – including one focused on expanding access for people who are incarcerated which I was proud to support – this is a solid win. And you can bet, many of us will continue fighting for advances like lowering the voting age for municipal elections and more. Here’s a quick summary of what the bill enshrines: (I hope you read on because this newsletter is packed with updates!)
Same-day voter registration
- Individuals would be able to register to vote during early voting periods or on the day of a primary or election.
Early voting in-person
- The bill would require two weeks (including two weekends) of early voting in-person for biennial state elections and any municipal elections held on the same day. One of my amendments allows for flexibility for small towns.
- The bill would require one week (including one weekend) of early voting in-person for a presidential or state primary and any municipal elections held on the same day. Similarly, one of my amendments allows for small town flexibility.
- The bill would allow municipalities to opt in to in-person early voting for any municipal election not held concurrently with another election.
Permanent mail-in voting
- The bill would require the Secretary of the Commonwealth to send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters on July 15 of every even-numbered year; the Secretary would have the option to include these applications as part of mailings already required to be sent.
- As in 2020, postage would be prepaid for mail-in ballot applications and ballots.
- As in 2020, mail-in ballots would be accepted for a biennial state election if mailed on or by election day and received by 5 p.m. on the third day after the election.
Additional flexibility for local officials
- The bill would give municipalities the option to set up secure drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
- The bill would allow election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots in advance of Election Day. One of my amendments allows small towns with ballot crank boxes (and not electric tabulators) to prepare early ballots in the same way that is permitted for municipalities with tabulators.
Accommodations for people with disabilities
- The bill would allow a voter with disabilities to request accommodations from the Secretary of the Commonwealth to vote by mail for state elections.
- Accommodations would include: electronic and accessible instructions, ballot application, ballot, and a voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically.
Jail-based voting reforms
- The bill would help ensure that individuals who are incarcerated and currently eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote in every state primary and general election.
- The bill would require correctional facilities to display and distribute information about voting rights and procedures, as prepared by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
- The bill would require facilities to assist individuals who are incarcerated in registering, applying for, and returning mail-in ballots.
- Through inclusion of an amendment, the bill would ensure that individuals who are incarcerated are properly notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form.
- The bill requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth to enter into an agreement with ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center), software that thirty other states use which helps keep more accurate voting rolls.
- The bill would allow U.S. service members residing overseas to cast their vote electronically.
- The bill would also instruct the Secretary of State to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to highlight the new voting and registration options.
Some of what else happened
The Senate unanimously passed a bill I filed to ensure nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates and all state documents. You can read a Dear Jo column focused on an inspiring 10-year-old advocate here. You can listen to my floor speech here.
I testified on a bill I filed to turn Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day. You can watch my argument here. I also testified on two health care-related bills which would significantly curtail a brutal practice called “estate recovery” and would allow low-income elders and people living with disabilities to remain in their homes much more easily. You can watch my testimony here.
Inspired prison advocates walked across Massachusetts in support of legislation I filed in partnership with Families for Justice as Healing to put a moratorium on the construction of any new women’s prison or jail. I met them on the State House steps when they arrived in Boston and spoke at a rally in support of our common goal — to block prison expansion and instead focus on funding alternatives to incarceration and after-incarceration support. You can watch my speech here.
The Senate also overrode a number of Baker vetoes to the FY22 budget. The Legislature had passed a reform eliminating the asset limit for eligibility for two programs that help the lowest-income people in the state – the Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) program and the Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC). Both of these programs had rules that denied eligibility for people with very modest savings. For EAEDC, the limit was just $250. The asset limit requirement was a counterproductive policy that forced families in need of assistance to spend down their savings that otherwise could have been used for education, transportation, and other needs. The Senate overrides protect these important reforms.
I nominated the Franklin County Community Development Corporation’s Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center as the Manufacturer of the Year for the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District (pictured below). You can hear our cheers via video here.
Virtual office hours kicking off!
District Director, Elena Cohen, and I are holding virtual office hours on Monday, October 25. This is the first of what will be a regular chance to connect virtually. Please sign up here (and stay tuned for more dates and times): https://calendly.com/elena-cohen/office-hours?month=2021-10&date=2021-10-25.
Out and about (September was jammed!)
House colleagues and I hosted the new Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Michael Bobbitt, for a day-long tour of cultural hubs in western Massachusetts. We wanted to help ensure Michael fell in love with the arts community like we have. Mission accomplished.
House colleagues and I hosted a day-long tour of area farms for colleagues from across the Commonwealth, including Senate President Karen Spilka. We spent the day meeting with farmers and advocates, discussing how we can strengthen farms and food security.
I had the privilege of introducing Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Northampton Town Hall on the lawn of the Forbes Library.
I spoke at a State House rally for significant public health funding as part of the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) process.
I joined the Connecticut River Conservancy’s annual river clean up, honored to get dirty for clean rivers. This year, I joined crews in Greenfield working along the banks of the Green River.
Sending our love to you,
Jo, Sam, Elena, Brian, Cameron, and Jared
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