House Speaker Ronald Mariano told lawmakers Wednesday the chamber will move to extend the state’s expanded voting-by-mail law at least through June, with the goal of making it permanent after voters embraced it during Massachusetts’s record-setting elections last fall.
Mariano’s support for keeping broad-based mail-in balloting — announced in a Wednesday night statement released by his office — bolsters what’s already a growing push on Beacon Hill to enshrine it in state law beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before passing a new law allowing every registered Massachusetts voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail in 2020, state law had limited absentee balloting to those who had specific reasons for not being able to make it to the polls, including if they are disabled or would be out of town on Election Day.
Lawmakers then extended the expanded mail-in option to March, but municipal leaders have lobbied them to keep it in place through the spring, with more than 250 towns scheduled to hold elections between April and June and the novel coronavirus “still raging.”
Mariano said Wednesday the House would extend it to June 30, and that legislative leaders will work “to make vote by mail permanent in Massachusetts,” praising it as a “secure” method that helped boost turnout in some places.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause devastation in our communities, we must find commonsense ways to empower voters, protect residents and explore ways to keep essential aspects of life as normal as possible,” Mariano said. “The House looks forward to making vote by mail a permanent way for residents to exercise their right to vote during and beyond the pandemic.”
A record 3.6 million ballots were cast in Massachusetts in November’s election, with more voters embracing mail-in ballots — nearly 42 percent — than any other option.
Since, state officials and lawmakers have filed a slew of bills to make the option permanent, and it’s unclear what path the Legislature could seek in a broader election reforms package.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin proposed both implementing broad-based voting by mail and same-day voter registration. Currently residents are required to register at least 20 days before an election to vote.
House and Senate Democrats, led by Representative John Lawn and Senator Cynthia Creem, offered similar ideas in a bill that would require elections officials to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters.
A separate proposal from Senator Rebecca Rausch, a Needham Democrat, would automatically enroll those who cast ballots by mail in both the state primary and general election last year within a newly created “permanent mail voter status.”
Governor Charlie Baker last year also offered support for keeping mail-in voting, though he has indicated he would not back automatically sending voters ballots without applying for them. “I think that’s a really dumb way to do this,” the Republican governor said in October.
State and local officials praised the state’s pivot last year to mail-in voting, which had came under repeated attacks from former President Donald Trump amid his attempts to bolster false claims of widespread voter fraud.
The Massachusetts Republican Party has since continued to criticize efforts to make it permanent, claiming that “half the country doesn’t trust that process,” its chairman, Jim Lyons, said in a statement earlier this month.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.