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Law streamlines voting process for Massachusetts military members serving overseas

State Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

The state has adopted a streamlined voting process to make it easier for members of the military to vote while serving overseas.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the policy into law just before the July 4 holiday. The policy is an amendment attached to a broader voting reform law recently passed by the Legislature.

The law was proposed by Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, based on his experience of voting in the 2018 midterm election when he was serving in Afghanistan. Velis is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“The right to vote is a fundamental right, but overseas service members are currently burdened by many logistical and operational obstacles that impact that right,” Velis said in writing. “Anything that we can do to make that voting process for our service-members overseas more efficient, we have an obligation to do. I am proud to say we fulfill that obligation with this law.”

The new law allows military members to vote through a secure online portal instead of through mail or by fax. It mirrors laws that 15 other states have adopted in the past, Velis said.

It will replace a cumbersome multi-step process that sometimes is difficult for service members to follow, especially if they are in remote locations, he said.

Before, military members had to submit an application for an absentee ballot to their town or city clerk. The ballot was then emailed or mailed to them. If it was emailed, the voter had to print out the ballot, fill it out and either scan it into email, fax it back or mail it, Velis said.

“I remember the excitement and great pride I felt voting during the 2018 mid-term elections from Afghanistan. At the same (time), I worried about how many of my fellow service members might be missing out on this opportunity and wondered why this process could not be simpler,” Velis said.

Service members will no longer need to find a printer or fax, worry about the back-and-forth communications with their clerk, or wonder about the privacy of their votes. It will be more efficient and cut out red tape while still ensuring safe and secure voting, Velis said.

The military voting policy takes effect on Dec. 1, but officials have until Jan. 1, 2023, to implement it.


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