Our Opinion: Mail-in voting takes shape in state

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Massachusetts appears on its way toward an ambitious mail-in voting process this fall after easy passage of a bill in the House on Thursday. ("Berkshire reps. strengthen mail-in ballot bill approved by House," Eagle, Danny Jin, June 5.) Senate passage appears likely and we urge Gov. Baker to sign the legislation without delay when it reaches his desk.

The governor has expressed concern that there was a rush to establish mail-in voting, but he didn't say he would not sign such legislation. The September primaries are not that far off and the Secretary of State's Office will need to get started on the mail-in process this month. President Trump is opposed to mail-in voting on the unproven basis that it encourages voter fraud, and what he will do to try to block it in the states remains to be seen.

The bill would not replace traditional voting at the polls, but would give voters concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic another option. It requires Secretary of State William Galvin to send mail-in ballot applications to every registered voter by July 15 and creates online voting portals to help alleviate the extra burden placed on town and city clerks. Early in-person voting would be extended for a seven-day period before the primary and 14 days before the election.

The House adopted an amendment offered by Lenox Democrat William "Smitty" Pignatelli that allowed ballots to be sent to voters' mailing addresses such as post office boxes since many in the Berkshires don't have residential mailing. An amendment from Pittsfield Democrat Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a member of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, pushing the voter registration cutoff to 10 days before Election Day was also adopted. This will provide an opportunity for more people to get to vote, which should be, but too often isn't, the goal of government.

Democratic Rep. Paul Mark of Peru, speaking in favor of the bill, made a case for additional state and federal funding for its implementation, particularly in small, rural towns, like those in his district, that face fiscal constraints. U.S. Senate Republicans are not likely to fund anything that encourages mail-in voting, but we hope the state Legislature will look favorably on this proposal as it works on budget matters in the weeks ahead.

Efforts to establish this new process for 2022 and future elections were set aside, but state Rep. John Barrett III, a North Adams Democrat, told The Eagle's State House reporter Danny Jin that he believes the changes "will eventually become permanent." As state Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, observed, mail-in voting in other states has increased voter registration and encourages voter education because voters are able to do homework with the ballot in front of them. It is possible to vote too early before a last minute emergence of critical new information, so the time frame will have to be considered carefully.

Mail-in voting is here to stay. We look forward to Massachusetts joining in this fall.

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