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Proposed law would expand early voting in Weymouth

A House conference committee is reviewing the legislation, which must be reconciled with Senate leaders before lawmakers decide whether to approve the measure.

Gov. Charlie Baker would have to approve any measure agreed to by lawmakers before it can be implemented in communities across the state.

Senate President Karen Spilka said the bill “will provide the most robust vote-by-mail ever in the history of Massachusetts.”

“We need to get this on the governor’s desk quickly so that the secretary of state can start working on it, the clerks can start working on it, and we can help them all meet their obligations,” she told the State House News Service, adding that the two branches must work together to push the legislation forward.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, said voters deserve “access to free, fair, and safe elections.

“The bipartisan legislation we passed today implements the checks and balances needed in order to expand access so voters may cast their ballots in a manner that they are comfortable with,” he said in a written statement.

Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, the Senate chair of the Election Laws Committee, said the objective of the measure is “to make it easier for people to exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote during these unprecedented times.

“This is the first time in the history of the Commonwealth that we are offering early voting for primaries, sending out applications to vote by mail, and counting ballots after Election Day,” he said during the Senate session.

The vote-by-mail legislation would permit voters to cast ballots at Town Hall during an extended early voting provision or vote at the polls during the election or state primary.

Voters could choose to mail their ballots to the board of registrars under the proposed legislation.

Approval of the measure would require Secretary of State Francis Galvin to send early voting applications by July 15 to all registered voters who wish to cast a ballot in the state primary.

The postage for the applications and ballots mailed by voters would be paid under the state budget.

Early voting during the state primary would be from Aug. 22-28.

Galvin also would be required to mail early voting applications to voters before the Nov. 3 general election under the proposed measure.

The postage for these applications and ballots mailed by voters would be financed under the state budget.

Early voting for the general election would take place Oct. 17-30, and voters can cast ballots at Town Hall.

The Weymouth Board of Registrars has not determined the early voting hours for the state primary and general election.

Voters would be allowed to return a primary or election ballot to the town clerk’s office or place it in a secure drop box inside the building.

The proposed legislation requires Galvin’s office to create an online portal by Oct. 1 for people to apply for casting ballots electronically during the general election.

Senators also are proposing to expand the state’s absentee voting law by allowing voters who are taking coronavirus precautions to place their ballots in a secure drop box at Town Hall.

The current absentee voting law allows voters who are unable to vote at a polling station for religious reasons, health issues, or not being in town on Election Day to request a ballot from the board of registrars during business hours.

Town Hall is currently closed for public access under the state’s stay-at-home advisory order until July 13.

The proposed legislation also permits community leaders to consolidate their polling places, eliminate check-out tables at these locations, and fewer poll workers to make the voting process more efficient.

State and federal laws allow residents who will be 18 or older on the day of an election or primary to register to vote.

Voter registration forms can also be downloaded from the secretary of state’s

The State House News Service contributed to this report.

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