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New voting rules in Massachusetts will now allow ballots cast before Election Day to be counted even if the voter has died.
The state legislature has changed earlier voting rules due to the coronavirus pandemic and will now allow the inclusion of votes by anyone who died after casting an early ballot. Any concerns about the temporary law and its impact on the total voting numbers were downplayed by Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin as “not a significant number of ballots.”
Previous Massachusetts voting rules held that a person had to actually be alive when polls open on Election Day to have his or her vote count in the final tally. But with the passing of the new measure, it seems even death itself can’t keep Massachusetts voters from making their voices heard.
“It’s pandemic-era time, so we had to expand the time for voting,” Galvin said at a news conference on Monday, explaining how the early voting by mail period for absentee ballots, which is normally 10 days before an election, was expanded another 20 days.
“To be clear, these are people who are alive and competent when they voted, but they may have died unexpectedly after they voted,” Galvin said.
“In past times, if the local officials knew they were dead – had died – even though they had legally voted when they cast the ballot, they would have discarded the ballot, not counted it,” he added before going on to give examples of different scenarios.
“If somebody voted at 8 o’clock in the morning in person and then two hours later died, their ballot being in the box, it would have been counted. If somebody voted on an absentee ballot the day, or two days, before the election and died on Election Day and there’s no chance the material determined that they had died, they would always be counted. So that’s not new,” he explained.
Massachusetts’ early voting expansion bill, which was passed by lawmakers in July, expanded the in-person early voting period for November’s election and allowed registered voters to cast their ballot by mail, according to the Boston Globe. It also included language that prohibits election officials from rejecting those early or absentee ballot “solely because the voter became ineligible to vote by reason by death after casting the ballot.”
At least 11 states, including Florida and Hawaii, have laws similar to the one passed in Massachusetts, according to the Globe which noted that “as of two years ago, at least 17 [states] explicitly rejected such ballots, including Massachusetts.”
Anticipating a flood of ballots, the expanded law in Massachusetts allows the processing of ballots as early as nine days before the primary and the general election, removing mail-in ballots from their envelopes and adding them in with other ballots to be counted.
“Because of this commingling and tabulating happening prior to Election Day, there would be no way to retrieve a deceased voter’s ballot once it has been advance processed,” Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for Galvin’s office, said.
“What this did is it took it out further. It’s not a significant number of ballots,” Galvin said of the legislation and its effect on totals.
“It’s certainly not going to affect the outcome of the election,” he said. “And if it were to — I speculate here — but if it were to, obviously there’d probably be some follow-up litigation. But since I’m already reaching my quota of being sued this year, I’m not going to go there.”
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