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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.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

COVID-19 elections updates, Mass. Secretary of State.
Updated information about elections and voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

St.2020, c.115 Voting options in response to COVID-19

St.2020, c.255 Early voting by mail. Extended until June 30, 2021 by St.2021, c.5.

Goldstein v. Secretary of Commonwealth, 484 Mass. 516 (2020)

During the COVID-19 pandemic: The number of required signatures is reduced by 50% for all candidates. The deadline for filing is extended. Electronic signatures may be accepted for nomination papers (subject to restriction).

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

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
Amended by:

  • § 25B Early voting
  • § 65 Activities at polling places
    • Political signs must be 150 feet from door of polling location
  • § 89 Applications for absentee ballot
  • § 91B Delivery of ballots
  • § 92 Method of voting

MGL c. 55, Campaign finance and disclosure

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

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 G.L. 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."

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, ___ 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. “No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of…corporations.”

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 election law that governs the filling of a vacancy where a candidate nominated for "state, city or town office" withdraws, dies, or otherwise becomes ineligible prior to an election."

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

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, 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 parties: “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 designations

Web sources

Candidate's guide to special elections, Mass. Secretary of State 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 State Elections Division
U.S. citizens applying for or renewing a driver’s license or state ID at the RMV, or applying for health insurance through Mass Health or the Commonwealth Health Care Connector will be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out.

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 State 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 State
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.
Perspectives on law and democracy -- The history of voting rights in the U.S. -- The constitutional right to vote -- Representation and districting -- Partisan gerrymandering -- Minority representation -- Election administration and remedies -- Direct democracy -- Political parties -- Campaign finance regulation.

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

Contact

Phone

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Within Massachusetts only

Online

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Reference librarians via email masslawlib@gmail.com

Address

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Last updated: July 1, 2021
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