On July 6, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law to expand voting by mail and early voting for this fall’s primary and general elections, in response to COVID-19 concerns.

The law allows voting by mail for any municipal election held at the same time.

The law requires Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to send an application for a mail-in ballot for the September primary election to every registered voter by July 15. In September, Galvin’s office must send applications for a mail-in ballot for the November general election.

Voters who wish to vote by mail for either the primary or general election must return the applications to their city or town clerk. Voters may vote by mail without needing to qualify for an absentee ballot for any election prior to Dec. 31, 2020.

Early in-person voting will be available for the primary election from Aug. 22 through Aug. 28, and for the general election from Oct. 17 through Oct. 30. These early in-person voting dates also apply to any city or town election held at the same time. The new law prescribes the minimum number of hours for Saturday and Sunday in-person early voting based on the size of the municipality.

The new law allows municipalities to change any polling place for a primary or general election. If there is a deficiency in the number of election officials, city and town clerks may appoint election officials without regard to political party membership, voter status, residence in the city or town, or inclusion on a list filed by a political party committee.

In testimony submitted on May 14 to the Joint Committee on Election Laws, the MMA stressed that cities and towns will need flexibility and authority to ensure the safety of all voters and poll workers. The MMA also addressed the cost of the legislation, estimated at up to $8 million.

“The MMA respectfully requests a guarantee of full funding for any new election responsibility and training requirements that are imposed on communities by the COVID-19 emergency and state legislation,” the testimony stated.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth must now consult with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health on the appropriate public health safeguards to protect municipal employees, election workers and voters at polling places, and promulgate emergency regulations for the administration of the fall elections.

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