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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Massachusetts Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 24, 2020
Published: August 24, 2020

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s Toolkits for Activ­ists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Polit­ical Context  |  What’s in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Admin­is­ter­ing an elec­tion under pandemic condi­tions requires under­tak­ing steps to keep voting access­ible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the prob­lems Covid-19 poses, what prepared­ness meas­ures Massachu­setts has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some polit­ical context for your advocacy.

Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local offi­cials have a lot of respons­ib­il­ity over elec­tions. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state offi­cials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we high­light some examples of changes that local elec­tions offi­cials can also make with this symbol:🔸

Polit­ical Context

Below is a list of the relev­ant offi­cials and inform­a­tion about the legis­lat­ive session.

Governor: Charlie Baker (R)  

Secret­ary of the Common­wealth: William Fran­cis Galvin (D)

Legis­lature: House (D) Senate (D)

Legis­lat­ive Session:  The legis­lature is still in session, as of August 24, 2020, with plans to adjourn soon. The legis­lature can call a special legis­lat­ive session.

Local Elec­tions Offi­cials: In Massachu­setts, a number of local offi­cials share respons­ib­il­it­ies for admin­is­ter­ing elec­tions. You can look up indi­vidual local offi­cials here.

What Massachu­setts Has and What’s Needed

Three prior­it­ies. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elec­tions systems for success during a pandemic: regis­tra­tion, mail voting, and in-person voting.


Covid-19 may disrupt the tradi­tional ways Amer­ic­ans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or regis­ter­ing at govern­ment agen­cies. In the crucial weeks before the regis­tra­tion dead­line, postal service disrup­tions may lead many regis­tra­tion forms to arrive at elec­tion offices after the dead­line.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Massachu­setts Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter regis­tra­tion

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter regis­tra­tion dead­lines based on condi­tions in the state
  • Voter regis­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previ­ous elec­tions. Allow­ing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Elec­tion Day and decreases the expos­ure risk to Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Massachu­setts Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse
  • Online tool for request­ing an absentee ballot must be imple­men­ted by Octo­ber 1, 2020
  • No notary or witness require­ment for return of mail ballot
  • No ID require­ment to vote by mail
  • Provides pre-paid post­age for voting by mail
  • Accepts late-arriv­ing ballots post­marked by Elec­tion Day
  • Send­ing absentee-ballot applic­a­tions to all voters who have not yet applied

Changes Still Needed:

  • Provide post-elec­tion notice and cure oppor­tun­ity for defects on absentee-ballot envel­ope, includ­ing signa­ture mismatch or miss­ing signa­tures

In-Person Voting

Even with expan­ded mail voting oppor­tun­ity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disen­fran­chise voters without Inter­net and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accord­ance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Massachu­setts Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure suffi­cient polling places are open and resourced on Elec­tion Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting loca­tions🔸
  • Take proper public health precau­tions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold train­ing sessions for polling-place work­ers well in advance of Elec­tion Day, so that elec­tion offi­cials can better anti­cip­ate prob­lems with staff­ing and logist­ics🔸
  • Increase access to curb­side voting at polling loca­tions

Advocacy Focus: Protect­ing Polling Places

No matter how prepared Massachu­setts is as a matter of policy, elec­tions offi­cials and advoc­ates must stay vigil­ant about ensur­ing safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for every­one all the way through Elec­tion Day. Here are some import­ant things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Massachu­setts and what rules govern the process:

  • If the select board, board of select­men, or town coun­cil determ­ines that the public conveni­ence or public health would be better served, they may house all polling places in a single build­ing within the muni­cip­al­ity, if such build­ing is suit­ably equipped.🔸
  • Any polling place can be changed at least 20 days in advance of an upcom­ing elec­tion if it is determ­ined that the public conveni­ence or public health would be better served.🔸
  • Before chan­ging a polling place, a muni­cip­al­ity must eval­u­ate whether the change would have “a dispar­ate adverse impact on access to the polls on the basis of race, national origin, disab­il­ity, income or age.” The muni­cip­al­ity must also make a report of its eval­u­ation publicly avail­able three days before chan­ging a polling place.🔸
  • The Secret­ary of the Common­wealth shall develop emer­gency regu­la­tions requir­ing public health safe­guards at early voting sites and polling places in consulta­tion with the Depart­ment of Public Health Commis­sioner for the admin­is­tra­tion of elec­tions in 2020.

Key Dates for Massachu­setts Elec­tions

  • August 22, 2020: Voter-regis­tra­tion dead­line for the Primary Elec­tion
  • August 22-August 28, 2020: In-person early voting for the Primary Elec­tion
  • August 26, 2020: Applic­a­tion dead­line to vote by mail in the Primary Elec­tion (receipt of paper form at local elec­tion office)
  • Septem­ber 1, 2020: Primary Elec­tion Day
  • Octo­ber 17-Octo­ber 30, 2020: In-person early voting for the General Elec­tion
  • Octo­ber 24, 2020: Voter-regis­tra­tion dead­line for the General Elec­tion
  • Octo­ber 28, 2020: Applic­a­tion dead­line to vote by mail in the General Elec­tion (receipt of paper form at local elec­tion office)
  • Novem­ber 3, 2020: General Elec­tion Day