The Honorable Barry Finegold, Senate Chair
The Honorable John Lawn Jr., House Chair
Joint Committee on Election Laws
State House, Boston

Dear Senator Finegold, Representative Lawn, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to share our comments on the election bills before your committee today.

This year, municipal clerks and election officials in the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns will be responsible for administering federal, state and local elections in the most accessible and efficient way allowed by law during a public health crisis. This is why we support provisions in the bills before you that would expand voting-by-mail options to encourage and allow all citizens to exercise their right to vote safely.

Our utmost concern is not only for the safety of all citizens during elections, but also the safety of our municipal employees and poll workers. Municipalities are already hearing from their poll workers that they are concerned about possible exposure. Poll workers, in general, are made up of older individuals who are particularly vulnerable to this virus. The MMA wants to ensure that our municipal officials, election officials, and poll workers all have access to personal protective equipment to keep them safe.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth should be required to issue guidance on how to run safe elections, considering important aspects such as PPE, social/physical distancing, proper sanitization protocols for voting booths and equipment, use of plexiglass and other barriers, and other public health safeguards to protect voters, poll workers and observers. Further, the Commonwealth should provide funding mechanisms and ensure supply chains that allow cities and towns to procure the public health and safety supplies necessary to hold safe elections.

In addition, municipalities should have the option of consolidating and changing the locations of polling places and reducing the number of required poll workers at any given polling location. Given the likely shortage of staff necessary to run elections, the consolidation of polling locations will make it easier to staff those remaining locations. Municipalities that have polling locations in senior housing facilities or retirement communities will also likely wish to move those polling locations to places with less vulnerable populations. In order to have successful and safe elections, cities and towns will need this flexibility and authority.

As the state and communities implement changes to our election processes in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, it would be prudent to use this as an opportunity to consider these alterations as a possible framework for more permanent adoption. Any finalized bill should include a broad-based task force to study the expanded voting options put in place for the 2020 elections, evaluate their effectiveness, and recommend which of these changes should be retained for future elections.

The MMA respectfully requests a guarantee of full funding for any new election responsibilities and training requirements that are imposed on communities by the COVID-19 emergency and state legislation. Cities and towns are already facing major budget uncertainties due to deep revenue losses and increased public health and safety expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not the time to mandate new responsibilities and costs without full state funding or assistance. Unfunded election mandates would further pressure already stressed cities and towns, and create uneven and inequitable burdens throughout the state.

Also, while the MMA supports expanding voting-by-mail options, we acknowledge that this is an extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive option that would require new streamlined processes and technology in order to be successful. As you consider the bills before you, please direct your attention to the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association’s comments, which lay out more specific technological and process needs, as well as general input from all those who administer elections in our cities and towns.

The MMA supports legislative action to ensure healthy and safe elections through processes that preserve the integrity of elections and retain voter confidence and participation. We ask you to support provisions to facilitate the conduct of elections during the COVID-19 pandemic with an eye on long-term changes that can be implemented now, without imposing unfunded mandates or requirements, as cities and towns cannot absorb these given the deep revenue losses they are experiencing. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO