If you are a registered voter here in Massachusetts, chances are you’ve received a folded-up card in the mail in recent weeks with the words “Official 2020 Vote by Mail Application” emblazoned on it in big block lettering. Yes. This year, due to public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Massachusetts voters can opt to vote by mail.
Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that extended this option to vote by mail to all Bay State voters for both the Sept. 1 state primary and the Nov. 3 general election. As part of that law, the secretary of the commonwealth was required to mail these applications for mail-in ballots to each of Massachusetts’ 4.5 million registered voters. This unprecedented change in how Massachusetts residents can vote left WGBH reporters with a number of questions about how it’s all going to work. Here’s what they’ve learned.
1. Do I have to vote by mail? Can I just ignore all of this and vote in person?
In-person voting will still be an option for anyone who doesn’t want to vote by mail.
2. What do I do if I haven’t received a vote-by-mail application?
You can download and print out an application:
Or you can write a letter to Boston Election Department.
3. What’s the deadline for applying for my vote-by-mail ballot?
There are separate deadlines for the state primary and the general election, but you can request ballots for both elections by filling out that single form. Your application for a vote-by-mail ballot for the state primary must be received by 5 p.m. on Aug. 26. Your application for a vote-by-mail ballot for the November general election must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 28.
These are both “received by” deadlines and not “postmarked by” deadlines.
4. Who pays for postage? “US Postage Paid”
5. Can I apply for my vote-by-mail ballot online or over the phone instead of filling out the form and mailing it back?
According to the Secretary of the commonwealth’s office, “all applications must be in writing.”
You can also fax your application to Boston Election Department.
6. If I would normally apply for an absentee ballot, should I still do that? Or does mail-in voting replace the absentee ballot this year?
Vote-by-mail ballots are available to all voters this year, but absentee ballots do still exist.
More information about how to apply for an absentee ballot is available :
7. If I apply for a vote-by-mail ballot, am I locked into voting by mail? Can I change my mind and vote in-person instead?
You do not have to vote by mail if you apply for and receive a vote-by-mail ballot. If the Boston election department has not received and validated your mail-in ballot by Election Day — Sept. 1 for the primary and Nov. 3 for the general election — you can still vote in person.
8. What do I do if I lose or damage my mail-in ballot once I receive it? Can I get another one? You can. But it will take some time. You can return a damaged ballot to Boston election department with a note indicating that you are “spoiling your ballot” and need a new one sent to you.
9. I’m worried my vote won’t be counted if I vote by mail. What might render my mail-in ballot invalid in Massachusetts?
Your ballot will be rejected if:
- You missed the deadline to submit your ballot.
- Your ballot envelope is not signed.
- You have already voted in person.
10. If I vote by mail, will I receive confirmation that my vote was counted?
All accepted ballots will be counted. You won’t be notified that your vote has been tallied, but you will be if your ballot is not accepted. You can proactively confirm that your mail-in ballot was accepted at www.TrackMyBallotMA.com.
11. What mechanisms are in place to ensure people don’t accidentally — or intentionally — vote by mail and then again in person?
Once a ballot reaches a local election office, the clerk must check the ballot envelope to make sure it is signed by the voter. As long as the ballot envelope is properly completed, the voter is then checked off on the voter list that will be used during early voting and at the polling places on Election Day, so the voter will not be able to vote again,
12. Will I have to show an ID with my mail-in ballot?
You might. First-time voters to show ID if they registered to vote by mail and their identity has not been confirmed.
13. How will officials tabulate the results? What is the expected time frame for this?
All ballots, whether filled out in-person or submitted by mail, get fed into the ballot box. About five dozen smaller Massachusetts municipalities still count votes by hand. In most cities and towns, votes are processed through an optical scan machine. Any vote that is processed —in person or by mail — is required to happen “in full view of the public.” In general, mail-in ballots are processed at the polling location where each voter would have cast an in-person ballot.
Poll workers are required to announce to anyone present when they are processing mail-in ballots at a polling location.
By state law, official Primary election results must be certified by local election officials within four days of the Election. For the November general election, local election officials must certify the results within 15 days of Election Day.