A recently passed state voting rights bill includes an amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Andy X. Vargas that allows uniformed and overseas citizens to vote electronically through a mobile voting system.
The VOTES Act amendment by Haverhill’s Vargas and Beverly Rep. Jerry Parisella requires the mobile system to be approved by the secretary of the Commonwealth. A similar provision allows voters with disabilities to request appropriate accommodations, including an electronic ballot application, ballot and voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically.
“Military service members face unnecessary challenges when voting. We’ve learned from conservative and liberal states alike that mobile voting presents us with the opportunity to give our active-duty service members and citizens with disabilities a fair shot at participating in our elections,” Vargas said. He added, “As other states seek to impede people’s ability to vote, the passage of this bill demonstrates Massachusetts’ commitment ensuring all eligible voters have access to our most fundamental right as Americans, the right to vote.”
Described as a landmark law, it allows permanent mail-in voting, permitting all registered voters to vote by mail for any presidential, state or local election; expands the early voting period, mandating two weeks of early voting in-person for biennial state elections and one week for presidential or state primaries; reduces the voter registration deadline to 10 days before a preliminary, primary or election; increases support for local election officials, and more. The bill was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Until passage of the new law, active-duty service members cast absentee ballots by mail, fax or email. Unfortunately, these voters often have concerns that mail-in or faxed ballots may not be received in time or may not even be counted. As many as 300,000 U.S. voters overseas requested ballots in the 2016 elections, but failed to submit them.
Parisella is himself a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves and now a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. He said he has experienced the challenges of voting while serving overseas.