BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – With the state’s first early voting period less than a week away, more than half of the 351 cities and towns have plans in place that election advocates say expand access to the polls beyond what is required.
At a ceremony Wednesday, the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition recognized the 201 communities that plan to offer their residents “substantial early voting options,” including additional locations and evening and weekend hours.
Early voting for the presidential and state election will begin on Oct. 24 and run until Nov. 4, ending four days before the Nov. 8 election. Municipalities are required to offer early voting in at least one location during regular business hours, and local officials have the discretion to add extra sites and hours.
The election modernization group has pushed for the addition of evening and weekend hours and at least one polling place per every 35,000 residents. Last November, the coalition launched its “Early Voting Challenge” to encourage expanded hours and locations.
The cities and towns going “above and beyond” the law’s requirements will “ensure that voters throughout the state will have a convenient, flexible and positive voting experience in 2016,” said Meryl Kessler, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
The coalition awarded silver medals to 167 municipalities whose early voting plans include one polling place per every 35,000 residents, at least one weeknight of evening voting each week in the early voting period, and four or more hours of weekend voting.
For a gold medal, communities needed to offer six or more hours of weekend voting and two evenings of voting each week.
Thirty-four communities received the top honors. They are: Acton, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dartmouth, Dedham, Duxbury, Falmouth, Franklin, Lincoln, Lowell, Malden, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Monson, New Bedford, Newton, Norfolk, Northampton, Northborough, Pepperell, Plymouth, Quincy, Rockland, Shirley, South Hadley, Springfield, Swampscott, Templeton, Tyringham, Waltham, Wellesley, Williamsburg and Worcester.
During the ceremony, Senate President Stan Rosenberg said early voting provides an important option.
“It means that those people who may have transportation problems or work schedules that conflict with the ability to vote on Election Day, November 8, will now have the opportunity to do it,” the Amherst Democrat said. “The result, based on what’s happening in other states, is more people are going to get out and vote because they have a 12-day period instead of one 12-hour period in which to get out and vote, so I’m hoping that many people across the commonwealth will get out and vote early.”