Advocates Applaud Online Ballot Application Portal

BOSTON – As of today, and for the first time in Massachusetts history, registered voters can apply for a mail ballot online through the Secretary of Commonwealth’s website.

While expanded vote by mail and early voting contributed to record turnout for the September primary, this online portal – which the Election Modernization Coalition proposed in legislation last spring and advocated for throughout the summer – will expand access to safe, socially-distant mail voting options during this pandemic.

“Sending ballot applications directly to registered voters led to record participation this September – with nearly half the votes being cast via mail balloting,” said Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But we know those applications did not reach all voters, we are particularly concerned about low-income voters, the young and the elderly, and voters of color in the Commonwealth. The portal will help empower these voters to register, request a ballot, and make sure the system works.”

With the online portal, advocates argue that it will be easier for would-be voters who are not yet registered to participate in mail voting.

“The implementation of the online portal is a key step in the fight to strengthen and expand voting rights across the Commonwealth, said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director at MassVOTE. “Voters, especially those in communities of color, low-income and immigrant communities, will face fewer burdens in casting ballots this fall. We must do all that we can to make sure that this portal, as well as vote by mail, remain in place well beyond 2020.”

“We know that the registration barrier disproportionately impacts those communities in Massachusetts who have faced a long history of barriers to political participation. So we know that automatically mailing ballot applications – while a critical step for Massachusetts  – fell short of serving our BIPOC, low-income, student and elderly populations,” said Beth Huang, Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table. “This online portal will make strides in redressing exactly that: now, at least those who have access to the internet can both register to vote until the October 24 deadline, and also request their mail ballot.”

The online portal was a hotly debated provision of the fall elections legislation. But it was one that the Election Modernization Coalition advocated from the get-go, and continued to push throughout the legislative process.

“We want to thank Representative Lawn and Senator Finegold, who fought to include this online portal as part of comprehensive legislation to make voting as safe as possible and equally accessible for all,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “They recognized and consistently advocated for the on-line portal as a critical way to ensure that everyone who wants to vote by mail can receive a ballot.”

Further, advocates argue, the online portal is another example of fall elections legislation changes that are currently due to expire at the end of the year and must be made permanent.

“There is no going back,” said Pattye Comfort, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. “Voters will undoubtedly make use of this portal, and we expect the portal to contribute to a record turnout in the General election.  Now that this option, which makes voting easier is in place, it should become a permanent part of our election laws.”

“In 2020, we keep saying, that in crisis there is danger and there is opportunity. With the launch of this portal through which people can easily apply for a ballot with a few clicks online, we seize the opportunity to make voting more accessible for all—a cause for celebration if ever there was one,” said Janet Domenitz, Director MASSPIRG.