Legislators proposed a bevy of bills that could change the Bay State’s election system, including placing ballot boxes in some correctional facilities, making voting mandatory and moving the primary date from September to late spring.
“The right to vote is not only sacrosanct, but it’s connected to a lot of great outcomes for a lot of people, and not just us ‘outside the walls,'” said state Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston, who proposed the bill that would authorize a pilot program to bring ballot boxes into Suffolk County correctional facilities in partnership with the sheriff’s office.
“We do have about 600 incarcerated people in Suffolk County facilities that are eligible to vote, and the barriers are challenging,” she added. “Most of these barriers are solved when you (move) the ballot box into the facility,” she said.
When questioned about the logistics of this type of program on a larger scale, Elugardo clarified that this would only be a small-scale pilot program to “work out some of the kinks.” Currently, incarcerated individuals are eligible to vote in Massachusetts if they are not convicted of a felony.
Another bill proposed by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, would make voting mandatory in November general elections, imposing a $15 fine for those who fail to mail their ballots in, and blank ballots would be accepted.
Miles Rapoport, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and the former secretary of state of Connecticut, testified in support of the bill, and pointed out that Massachusetts is the only state where mandatory voting is written into its constitution. He compared compulsory voting to jury duty, ensuring a representative sample in election results, and added that Australia has had this system in place since 1924.
Other proposed bills would move the primary to May or June instead of September to avoid confusion with the lease turnovers every September and to better accommodate Jewish holidays.
The election laws discussion comes amid growing calls to better secure Bay State elections — a 2022 ballot initiative would require Massachusetts voters to provide photo identification to vote if passed.
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