Sign-On Testimony in Support of HD 5075: An Act Ensuring Safe and Participatory 2020 State Elections in Response to COVID-19
Testimony in Support of HD. 5075
An Act Ensuring Safe and Participatory 2020 State Elections in Response to COVID-19
Joint Committee on Election Laws
May 14, 2020
Dear Chairman Finegold, Chairman Lawn, and members of the Election Laws Committee,
Please accept this letter as testimony in support of HD 5075 sponsored by Representative Lawn, Representative Moran, Senator Lesser, Senator Hinds and 87 other legislators.
The COVID-19 crisis threatens not only public health but also our democracy by keeping voters at home, suppressing registration efforts, and imperiling the health of poll workers. We hope that the pandemic will have abated by the fall and that the virus does not resurge, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. We must take action now to ensure that the fall elections are as safe and participatory as possible. Even if the immediate crisis has passed by then, many Massachusetts voters will still be fearful of public interaction — and this is the best-case scenario.
That is why we, the undersigned 68 organizations, respectfully urge you to favorably report HD. 5075, An Act Ensuring Safe and Participatory 2020 State Elections in Response to COVID-19. We believe that this bill will most effectively prepare the Commonwealth for the threats that COVID-19 poses to our fall elections by mailing all registered voters ballots for the November general election, reducing the voter registration deadline, allowing for central tabulation of mailed ballots, expanding early voting, establishing an on-line portal for absentee ballot requests, ensuring that coronavirus precautions constitute a physical disability for the purpose of requesting an absentee ballot, and much more.
Expanded absentee and vote by mail:
Currently, only 3-5% of Bay Staters vote by mail. That number will rise to 60, 70, or even 90% of voters this fall, depending on the state of the coronavirus pandemic. Voter turnout in the November presidential election has traditionally been very high—usually 75% and this year maybe even higher. With over 3 million ballots to process this fall, our local officials, many of who work alone or part-time, will just not be able to keep up with the demands of the multi-step absentee ballot request process. Our current request process is essentially all done by hand including responding to inquiries, fulfilling requests for applications requests for ballots, matching signatures, mailing ballots, receiving ballots, and then sorting, storing, processing, and counting ballots received. We just do not see how our cities and towns will be able to do all the steps required.
In other states’ elections this spring that had much lower turnout, we have seen the results of election systems unprepared for huge numbers of absentee ballot requests. In Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, the volume of requests was too high for local officials to keep up with, resulting in thousands not receiving their ballots on time despite properly requesting them.
Sending every voter a ballot by mail for the November election solves this significant problem by cutting clerks’ workload in half. It’s a tried and true voting system that has worked well in states across the country for decades. Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and much of California, send all eligible voters their ballots, and many more states will likely be switching to this system for 2020. The policy has proven successful in increasing access to the ballot while also ensuring elections are fair and secure.
- 5075 would make several other necessary changes to mail voting in the Commonwealth. First, it is absolutely critical to change the way we process absentee ballots once they are received. Because the volume will be so high, it will be impossible to process them all on election day at the polls. That is why HD. 5075 gives clerks the authority to scan absentee and early voting ballots in the local election office before primary or election day. Results may not be determined or announced before the polls close.
For the November election only, the bill would also extend the deadline for ballots to be received. Currently, ballots must be received by Election Day unless they are sent from overseas military. Accordingly, for the November election only, HD. 5075 would change this to require that absentee ballots be postmarked by election day and received by the same date specified for overseas ballots. Many other states, including some of the largest such as California, North Carolina and Texas, already have this rule. For the September primary, mailed ballots will still have to be received by Election Day because of a tight deadline for printing the November election ballot.
The bill will also create a statewide Internet portal for voters to apply for an absentee ballot. This is particularly important for the September primaries where voters would need to apply to receive an absentee ballot. It will streamline the process and make it more accessible to voters while reducing workload on local officials. Many other states have a similar portal for absentee ballot requests, and Massachusetts already has an online portal for voter registration and for tracking absentee ballots.
Protections for In-Person Voting and Poll Workers
Mail-in balloting will help keep our elections safe and participatory, but voters must still have the option of casting ballots in person. Sometimes voters do not receive their ballots. Sometimes a voter may have spoiled their ballot and need a new one. Voters with disabilities may be unable to mark a paper ballot and need to access the proper, specialized, voting equipment that is available only at polling places.
HD 5075 would enact strong protections to ensure that voters who prefer to vote in person can do so without risking their or the greater public’s health. These protections include expanding early voting hours and the early voting period to two weeks before the primary and three weeks before the general elections, which would reduce the concentration of voters at any one time, removing the check-out table thereby reducing the number of election workers needed at each polling location, and removing the requirement that poll workers be registered local voters, which would make it easier for younger poll workers to serve.
During the crisis and well after, voter registration efforts will be severely curtailed. Far fewer voters will register at the RMV, and third-party registration efforts at events or door-to-door efforts will be dramatically reduced. That is why it is critical that HD 5075 builds on the precedent set by S.2608, which cut the voter registration deadline from 20 days to 10 days and does the same for Massachusetts’ primary and general elections.
Federal funds that have already been appropriated can help pay for these changes. Massachusetts has been allocated $8.2 million dollars as part of the CARES act to pay for COVID-related elections changes. Our Congressional delegation is also working hard to provide additional money for this purpose. In addition, our state has approximately $40 million in a Help America Vote Act fund that can help pay for needed equipment, data changes, online portals, training and other expenses.
In summary, while we cannot predict what the state of COVID-19 will be this fall, we believe that the strongest protections necessary must be implemented now to ensure that voters can participate safely in our democracy, and that these changes are manageable for local elections officials. We believe that HD 5075, particularly by mailing ballots to voters for the general election, will do just that.
We understand that HD. 5075 details significant changes to the administration of elections in Massachusetts. Those changes are critical responses to a change that we cannot control—the coronavirus pandemic and resulting tsunami of mailed ballots that our state will receive regardless of your actions. Passing this bill is the best opportunity to ride that wave and to protect our citizens’ right to vote. Although the state primary is four months and general election six months away, it will take at least that long to implement the necessary reforms, prepare our election officials and polling places for these changes, purchase new equipment, and educate voters. Action is needed now, as soon as possible.
We respectfully urge you to report HD 5075 favorably out of committee very soon.
Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
Rahsaan Hall, ACLU of Massachusetts
Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG,
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, MassVOTE
Beth Huang, Massachusetts Voter Table
Patricia Comfort, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts
Sophia Hall, Lawyers for Civil Rights
Tim Foley, 1199 SEIU Massachusetts
Marvin Martin, Action for Equity
Dwaign Tyndall, Alternatives for Community and Environment
Beth Kontos, American Federation of Teachers-MA
Jeff Clements, American Promise
Tanisha Arena, Arise for Social Justice
Sheila Irvin, Chair, Berkshire Democratic Brigades
Priscilla Flint-Banks, Black Boston COVID19 Coalition
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Black Directors’ Network
Priscilla Flint-Banks, Black Economic Justistic Institute
Rev. David Wright, Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Inc.
Spencer Brown and Eve Seitchik, Boston Democratic Socialists of America
Rev. David Wright, Boston Ten Point Coalition
Nia Evans, Boston Ujima Project
Phyllis Neufeld, Burlington Democratic Town Committee
Sovanna Pouv, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell, Inc.
Peter Ciurczak , Cambridge Area Stronger Together (CAST)
David J. Harris, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Margaret, Chilmark Democratic Town Committee
Lisa Owens, City Life Vida Urbana
Rev. June Cooper, City Mission, Inc.
Vick Mohanka, Clean Water Action MA
Deb Fastino, Coalition for Social Justice
Gail Latimore, Codman Square NDC
Alyssa Rayman-Read, Conservation Law Foundation
Alan Epstein, Criminal Justice Reform Task Force of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek
Madeline Hertz, Democratic Policy Center
John Lloyd, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative – DSNI
Freda Flammer, End Mass Incarceration Together
Elizabeth Henry, Environmental League of Massachusetts
Adam Eichen, Equal Citizens
Lisa Danetz, ForwardMA
Four Freedoms Coalition
Ferd Wulkan, Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution
Louis Elisa, Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association
Samuel M. Gebru, Generation Citizen Massachusetts
Rev. Pierre-Louis Zephi, Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center Inc.
Charlene Greene, Greater Boston Section-National Council of Negro Women
Carla Cooper, Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard
Lawrence Pareles, Indivisible Northampton
Laurie Veninger, Indivisible Outer Cape
Ellen Kurz, iVOTE
Nadeem Mazen, Jetpac
Cindy Rowe, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Aaron Agulnek, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
Antonio Amaya Iraheta, La Comunidad, Inc
Joyce Hackett, Lift+Every+Vote
David A. Bryant, MA Association of Community Development Corporations
Javier Gutierrez, Madison Park Development Corporation
Paulo Pinto, MAPS-Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers
Tristan Grieve, March For Our Lives: Massachusetts
Michael Kane, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants
Janine Carreiro, Mass Communities Action Network
Tanya Neslusan, Mass Equality
Thomas Callahan, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
Cassandra Bensahih, Massachusetts Against Solitary Confinement
Eva A. Millona, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Georgia Katsoulomitis, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Andrea Burns, Massachusetts Peace Action
Celia J. Blue, Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition
Emily Ruddock, Executive Director, MASSCreative
Phillip Kassel, Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee
MITvote Executive Board, MITvote
Juan M. Cofield, NAACP- New England Area Conference
Tanisha Sullivan, NAACP-Boston Branch
Rebekah Gewirtz, National Association of Social Workers, MA Chapter
Maria Elena Letona, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts
Noemi Ramos, New England United for Justice
Dr. S. Atyia Martin, Next Leadership Development Corporation
Brian Miller, Nonprofit Vote
Zac Bears, PHENOM
Mehreen Butt, Planned Parenthood
Rev. Miniard Culpepper, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church
Jeffery Coaston, Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts
John Lippitt, Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts
Russell Freedman, Progressive For Democracy in America
Jonathan Cohn, Progressive Massachusetts
Michael Kozu, Project R.I.G.H.T.
Michael Weekes, Providers’ Council- CareVote
Steven Godfrey, Quincy Geneva New Vision CDC
Emily Greene, Racial Justice Rising
Fred Van Deusen, Reclaim Our Democracy
Noemi Ramos, Right to the City Boston
Filipe Zamborlini, Rosie’s Place
Deb Pasternak, Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter
Frances Moore Lappé, Small Planet Institute
Diane Asadorian Masters, Somerville Democratic City Committee
Michael Chen, Sunrise Movement Boston
Mark Haidar, The Equal Democracy Project at Harvard Law School
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
Shahara Jaghoo, The Women’s Pipeline for Change
Claire Miller, Toxics Action Center
Aziza Robinson-Goodnight, Transformative Culture Project
Horace Small, Union of Minority Neighborhoods
Laura Wagner MSW, Unitarian Universalist Mass Action
George Pillsbury, Voter Choice for Massachusetts 2020
Isabel Gonzalez-Webster, Worcester Interfaith
Rebecca Pinn, Young Democrats of Massachusetts
Eva Martin Blythe, YWCA Cambridge
Jordan Latham, YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts