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AARP Massachusetts Letter to House Regarding H.B. No. 4768: An Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to COVID-19 and amendments

Massachusetts State House

June 3, 2020

Letter to the House from Mike Festa, AARP Massachusetts State Director and Sandra Harris, AARP Massachusetts State President



Dear Representative:

On behalf of our 775,000 members and all older Massachusetts residents, we appreciate the dedication with which our state’s leaders have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the ongoing efforts that will be required as we move forward. As the legislature considers the next steps to address the various facets of this public health emergency, we urge you to continue to be especially mindful of older adults, who are most at risk from this disease.

Massachusetts voters are set to go to the polls on September 1 for the state primary and November 3 for the general election. We believe that it’s important to take action now to ensure that all registered voters can cast their ballots safely. For nearly 40 years, the turnout of voters over the age of 45 has significantly outpaced that of younger Americans. For example, according to U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2016 presidential election, 71 percent of Americans over the age of 65 voted. That’s compared with just 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. Moreover, people over the age of 65 show up to the polls far more than any other age group.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people over 65 years of age, and those with serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease seem to be at highest risk for severe disease and even death from COVID-19 related illness.

In order to protect all Massachusetts voters, election officials, and volunteers who staff polling locations, many of whom are retirees, we believe Massachusetts should begin efforts now to develop alternative means for a voter to cast their ballot. Older Massachusetts residents should not have to risk their lives or their health to exercise their right to vote.

We are pleased to see House Bill No. 4768 gets to the heart of the concerns AARP Massachusetts has regarding the 2020 elections.

We urge you to support the following:
listed by Amendment Title, Amendment Number, Line Item/Section, and Impact

Technical Amendment (Amendment #1): Expands the early voting period for the Primary by a full week.

Early Voting for All Local Elections (Amendment #2): Expands early voting to all elections in 2020 (not just the general or special town or city elections).

Postmarked by election day (Amendment #4) Allows absentee ballots postmarked Election Day to be counted if they’re received five business days after Election Day.

Postmarked by date for General Election (Amendment #5): Allows for the counting of ballots postmarked on the day of the general election if received five business days after Election Day.

Early Central Processing (Amendment #6): Allows ballots to be scanned at any time, but the results must be kept secured until after the polls close.

Expanded Time for Voter Registration (Amendment #10): Allows for registration to vote 10 days before the election, rather than 20.

Polling Place Location Change Notification Timeline (Amendment #11): Requires a change to a polling location to be noticed 30 days before the election, rather than the 10 in the bill.

Early Voting Ballot Counting (Amendment #17): Allowing for the scanning of ballots as they arrive.

Creating More Efficiency in Ballot Applications Sent (Amendment #20): Expands the period in time for people registering to vote and get a notice about obtaining an absentee ballot.

Streamlining mail in ballot application process (Amendment #21): Ballot application tracking system. Note – We would support a further amendment to this amendment to provide that if there’s a technical problem with a submitted ballot, the voter will be notified and given the right to cure the error.

Safeguarding equity and access when making changes to polling places (Amendment #23) Establishes guidelines for changing and consolidating polling locations, including ensuring that polling places are only consolidated to protect health and if it doesn’t have disparate impact.

We urge you to oppose the following:

Primary Early Voting (Amendment #24) Removes early voting for the Primary by amending Section 7.

These are challenging times for all Baystate residents. As the Commonwealth’s residents look toward our elected officials for leadership, we at AARP look forward to working with you to ensure that the largest voting bloc in our population, the 50+ voter, can continue to have a safe and secure way to exercise their right to vote during this unprecedented time.

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