Massachusetts to begin offering voters early voting option

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts voters can begin casting ballots in this year’s contentious presidential race starting Monday — two weeks ahead of Election Day.

It’s the first time Massachusetts has allowed early voting, joining more than 30 other states that give voters the chance to cast ballots ahead of time.

Open government advocates and local municipal officials have been working to make sure the change goes smoothly.

“We are inspired by all of the cities and towns who went above and beyond the minimum requirements of the early voting law to ensure that voters throughout the state will have a convenient, flexible and positive voting experience,” said Meryl Kessler, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and a member of the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition.

The coalition has been keeping tabs on preparations for Monday’s early voting launch. It says 201 of the state’s 351 municipalities are offering what the coalition describes as substantial early voting options.

The group awarded gold medals to 34 communities for offering one early voting site for every 35,000 residents, at least two evenings of weeknight voting for each week in the early voting period, and six or more hours of weekend voting.

Another 167 municipalities earned the group’s silver medal for offering an adequate number of sites, at least one weeknight of evening voting each week in the two-week early voting period, and four or more hours of weekend voting. Towns under 10,000 people qualified with three hours on the weekend.

Common Cause Massachusetts Executive Director Pam Wilmot, also a member of the coalition, said early voting “promises to shorten long lines at busy polling places, improve the voting experience, and give Massachusetts citizens more opportunities to participate in democracy.”

One Massachusetts voter who won’t be participating in early voting is Gov. Charlie Baker.

“I like voting on Election Day,” the Republican told reporters Thursday at the Statehouse. “Frankly, I think if you vote before Election Day you never know what you might miss.”

The notion of Election Day as the single moment in a campaign when all voters take to the polls is becoming outdated. Millions of voters across the country have already cast ballots in the election cycle.

In Massachusetts, the early voting period for the Nov. 8 election is between Oct. 24 and Nov. 4.

Many of the state’s largest cities — including Boston, Cambridge, Worcester and Springfield — will have multiple voting locations open on at least some of the days during the early voting period.

Massachusetts adopted early voting in legislation passed in 2014, but the current presidential election is the first in which it will occur. The law requires early voting every two years for the November election.

Voters have the alternative option of obtaining an early ballot to cast by mail, using an application form from the secretary of state’s website. Clerks will begin mailing out the requested early ballots on October 24.

Voters can also obtain an early ballot to cast by mail, using an application form also on the secretary’s website. Clerks will begin mailing the requested early ballots on Monday.

Although ballots can be cast early, they won’t be counted until Election Day, when they will be included in the votes for the appropriate precinct.

Besides the presidential race, early ballots can be cast for several congressional and legislative races.

Voter will also decide four statewide ballot questions, including initiatives that would allow more charter schools, legalize the recreational use of marijuana, allow another slots parlor, and ban the sale of eggs and other food products that come from farms where animals are confined to overly restrictive cages.

(Copyright (c) 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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