Massachusetts Needs Vote-By-Mail Options- Now and Forever

Written by Barbara A. Smith,

Concerned Hamilton Citizen and Activist Blogger for transparency in government.. at Hamilton Wenham Liberals for Democracy member of the North Shore NAACP

Absentee voting differs from “Vote-By-Mail”.

Absentee voting and Vote By Mail (VBM) are not new! However, many Americans battled for the right to use these sensible, safe and popular options during the 2020 pandemic.

Absentee Voting

refers to when registered voters request that a ballot be mailed to them via mail or email if they prove to be eligible. Traditionally voters have been required to provide an “excuse” for why they can not vote at the polling place on Election Day.

Vote By Mail (VBM)

involves ballots being sent to every registered voter without needing to request it. NO EXCUSE IS NEEDED! VBM is the default in the states of Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. The extra step involved to request the mail-in ballot rather than having it automatically sent adds one more barrier to completing a complex multistep process.

Click on this link to learn the Absentee voting and VBM status of all 50 states during the 2020 election.

A Little Voting History

The roots of VBM can be traced back to soldiers voting far from home in Civil War battlefields. By the late 1800s, some states were extending absentee ballots to civilian voters under certain conditions (considered a valid excuse) such as travel limitations due to disabilities.

In 2000 Oregon became the first state to move to an all-mail voting system. Here is a little more voting history:

  • The Constitution’s Article 1, Section 4 says that it’s up to each state to determine “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections.” 
  • The “Founding Fathers” voted by raising their voices and voters were primarily composed to land-owning, white males.
  • 17th-century Massachusetts, men could vote from home if their homes were “vulnerable to Indian attack,” according to historian Alex Keyssar
  • The first paper ballots appearing in the early 1800s consisted of blank pieces of paper.
  • By the mid 1800s ballots had candidates names printed on them.

The War on Convenient Vote-by-Mail

According to National Public Radio the impeached former guy in the White House tweeted in April 2020 “GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD”. However, he casted a mail-in ballot himself from Florida.

  • There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, according to numerous investigations and studies. The president’s own voter fraud investigatory committee disbanded without producing evidence of any systemic issues.
  • Vote-by-mail is good for democracy. States that mail a ballot to every registered voter, including California, see turnout increase an average of 4 percent or more for all voters. The increase is more than 9 percent for voters who previously voted in-person. These effects were slightly larger in 2020.
  • The Massachusetts Republican Party wants to limit vote by mail now that the 2020 “pandemic election” is over by continuing the BIG LIE that voting by mail promotes fraud. According to Chairman, Jim Lyons, “Today we’re calling on residents to reach out to their state representatives and state senators to let them know that these emergency voting measures are no longer needed,” Lyons said. “Ensuring the public’s trust in our electoral process is one of the most important responsibilities that government has.” Jim Lyons knows that the only way that Republicans can win is to LIE and suppress the vote.

Voter Suppression and People of Color

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Obviously, the United States has a long history of voter suppression beginning with denying the vote to enslaved people, native Americans, women, immigrants and people who could not meet arbitrary and anti-democratic requirements such as literacy, ability to pay a poll tax or owning land. Twenty century first voter suppression includes:

No-Excuse, universal Vote- By- Mail can remove the inequities build into the system to suppress the vote in communities with high percentages of people of color.

However, in-person voting should always be an option and other barriers need to be removed. For example, Black and brown voters may have more difficulty accessing VBM ballots and higher rejection rates of completed VBM ballots. They must retain the option to vote in person.

Can Massachusetts voters mail-in ballots after the pandemic ends?

Multiple voting bills are being proposed.

  • Representatives. John Lawn and Cynthia Creem’s bill, HD. 1536 would make vote by mail a permanent option for the general public and tweak automatic voter registration.
  • Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said he was proposing similar changes.
  • Creem described the bill, SD189, as a temporary measure to let municipalities process mail-in ballots for local elections during the pandemic while lawmakers debate permanent changes to the state’s voting laws. Lawn, a Watertown Democrat, said he plans to file a similar bill that extends the temporary mail-in voting options until June so lawmakers have time to debate the permanent reforms.
  • A third bill filed by Creem, SD. 726, would require correctional facilities to distribute a pamphlet in English, Spanish and other languages about voting rights. The pamphlet would include information about who is eligible and how to register to vote, when and where voting takes place and other relevant elections information.
  • Rausch, a Needham Democrat, filed a bill that makes mail-in voting a permanent option for the public, even if they’re not sick or out of town during an election. The bill, SD. 39, also requires the state to maintain a central registry of voters, which also tracks residents ages 16 and up who may become eligible to vote. Local election officials would have to share their voting records with the state to build up the registry.

Take Action!

Call or write your state representative and senator to support bills that protect Voter rights including Vote-By Mail. Voting should be easy, free, quick and fair. Barriers must be removed.


In February 2021, partnered with advocates and legislators to file the VOTES Act. More formally known as “An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security”, the bill is sponsored by Rep. John Lawn in the House of Representatives (H.805) and Sen. Cindy Creem in the Senate (S.459). The VOTES Act is one of the boldest electoral reforms introduced in Massachusetts state history. Building off the the success of the 2020 Elections, it would make vote by mail permanent, expand early in-person voting options, implement same day voter registration, expand access to the ballot for eligible incarcerated citizens, and more.


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