Massachusetts law about elections and voting

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on elections and voting law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Best bet

Elections Division, Mass. Secretary of State.
Everything you need to know about the elections process, including:

  • How to register to vote
  • How to vote by absentee ballot
  • How to run for office
  • Ballot questions

Massachusetts laws

St.2022, c.22, §§ 16-22 Provides dates and deadlines for 2022 elections in Massachusetts

MGL c.10, § 42 State election campaign fund

MGL c.50 Elections, general provisions

MGL c.51 Voters and registration

MGL c.52 Political committees

MGL c.53 Nominations, primaries, initiatives

MGL c.54 Wards, voting districts and voting

MGL c.55 Campaign finance and disclosure

MGL c.56 Violations of election laws

MGL c.149, § 178 Time off to vote

Massachusetts regulations

950 CMR 46-60 Elections & voting

970 CMR Campaign finance

Federal laws

U.S. Code, Title 52 Voting and elections

18 U.S. Code Chapter 29 Elections and political activities (Crimes relating to)

Federal regulations

CFR, Title 11 Federal elections

Selected case law

1A Auto, Inc. v. Director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, 480 Mass. 423 (2018)
Under MGL c.55, § 8, corporations may not make contributions to political candidates or their campaigns.

Anderson v. Attorney General, 479 Mass. 780 (2018)
Ballot questions must address topics "which are related or which are mutually dependent."

Brnovich v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., ___ U.S. ___, 141 S.Ct. 2321 (2021)
Arizona rule requiring in-person voters to vote in their assigned precincts did not violate the Voting Rights Act.

Chelsea Collaborative v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 480 Mass. 27 (2018)
20-day blackout period for voter registration is OK. Case details the history of voter registration laws in Massachusetts.

Chiafalo v. Washington, 591 U.S. ___140 S.Ct. 2316 (July 6, 2020) 
States can require members of the electoral college to support the winner of the popular vote, and can punish "faithless electors," who do not.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010)
Political speech may not be suppressed based on the speaker’s corporate identity.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 US 181, 128 S.Ct. 1610 (2008)
In a 6-3 split, the US Supreme Court upheld an Indiana requirement that voters show government-issued identification at the polls.

Libertarian Association of Mass. v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 462 Mass. 538 (2012)
Substitution of candidate. Interprets a Massachusetts law concerned with filling the vacancy of a candidate nominated for “state, city, or town office.”

Lyons v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 490 Mass. 560 (2022)
The Massachusetts Constitution does not prohibit the state's legislature from expanding voter access.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. 185 (2014)
Removes cap on total amount an individual can contribute to federal candidates.

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1876 (2018)
Dress code for votersMinnesota law prohibiting voters from wearing political items inside a polling place on Election Day is unconstitutional.

Political parties

Changing political partiesMass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.
“If you wish to change your party enrollment, you may do so by filling out a new voter registration form.”

Massachusetts directory of political parties and designationsMass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.

Election Advisory #20-12: Regarding electioneering, the 150-foot rule, and maintaining order in the polling place, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division (2020).
“No person or group of people may hold any campaign sign; wear any campaign buttons, clothing, or identifying signs or symbols” promoting any party, candidate, or ballot question within 150 feet of a polling location.

Web sources

Are cell phones/electronic devices allowed at polling locations?

Cities and towns may have rules about using electronic devices at polling locations. Please contact your local election office for information.

Candidate's guide to special elections, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.
"This guide is intended for use by candidates running in special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. House, Senate, state Senate and state House of Representatives."

Federal Election Commission, Administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws.
Includes a searchable database of who is giving what to whom and guidance in satisfying filing requirements.

Massachusetts, national popular vote compact, St.2010, c. 229
An agreement among a group of U.S. states and the District of Columbia to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The compact would go into effect when the participating states have a total of 270 electoral votes.

Mass. Office of Campaign and Political Finance
Includes forms and guidance for filing under the campaign finance law. Provides instructions for obtaining public documents from the office.

Must employees be given time off work to vote?

Look at MGL c.149, § 178. This law was originally passed in 1887, and has been modified ten times, the most recent being in 1913.

The following is from Labor and Employment in Massachusetts: a guide to employment laws, regulations, and practices, 2nd edition, by Jeffrey L. Hirsch (Lexis, loose-leaf):

"Time Off to Vote

Massachusetts laws requires that employees who apply be granted a leave of absence to vote during the two hours after the polls open in their districts. Payment for voting time is at the discretion of the employer. Most employees have time to vote before or after work. One or two hours in most cases is the maximum time needed to vote. Employees should explain their reasons for needing more time and may also be requested to prove that they have voted by providing the name of the precinct where they cast their ballot."

Registering to vote, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.

If you are a U.S. citizen applying for or renewing a driver's license or state ID at the RMV, or applying for health insurance through MassHealth or the Commonwealth Health Connecter, you will be automatically registered to vote, unless you opt out of registering.

State ballot question petitions, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division, March 2021.
How to get a question on the ballot.

State felon voting laws, ProCon.org.
Information on each state’s lows on felon voting. Applications for re-enfranchisement and clemency are provided for the states requiring them.

Voting and elections law and history, USA.gov. 
Presidential election process, Voting and election history, Voter ID requirements, Voting and election laws.

Voting as an ex-offender, Nonprofit Vote.org.
"This is a short up-to-date state guide to voting for ex-offenders."

Where do I vote?, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.
Find your polling place in Massachusetts.

Print sources

America votes!: a guide to modern election law and voting rights, American Bar Association, 2020.

Election law in a nutshell, West Group, 2017.

Massachusetts election administration, campaign finance and lobbying law, MCLE, 2020.

Principles of the law, election administration, non-precinct voting and resolution of ballot-counting disputes / as adopted and promulgated by the American Law Institute at Washington, D.C., May 16, 2016; May 22, 2017.  St. Paul, MN : American Law Institute Publishers, 2019.

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Last updated: November 9, 2022
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