Massachusetts: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

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It’s hard to overstate the importance of this election, but we’re still going to try: Our very democracy is on the line. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Never mind that the act of voting has never felt more fraught. Is it safe to vote in person in the midst of a pandemic? If I vote by mail, can I be sure my ballot arrives? What the hell are all of the deadlines anyhow?

But this is where you come in. All the power rests in your hands now -- you just need to know what to do and how to do it safely. And we’re here to make that fact-finding an easy lift. Below is everything you need to know about voting in the 2020 election in Massachusetts.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Massachusetts?

The deadline to register in our state is October 24. If you choose to register by mail, your registration needs to be postmarked no later than October 24.

How to register to vote in Massachusetts

There are three main ways to register to vote: in person at your local city or town hall, online, or by mail. Even if you haven’t actively registered to vote, there’s a decent chance you already are. As of January 1, any Massachusetts resident that did business with the RMV, MassHealth, or Health Connector was automatically registered to vote unless they actively opted out.

Not sure about your status? Go here to find out. 

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Massachusetts?

Yup. Early voting in the state -- both in person and by mail -- is taking place from October 17 to October 30. However, dates and hours may vary based on where you live. Schedules for each town and city will be posted here no later than October 9.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes! Any registered voter in Massachusetts can request to do so. 

How do I vote by mail?

Simply fill out the mail ballot application, and submit the request to your local election office. Applications can be mailed, hand-delivered to an election office, voting site, or drop box, or submitted electronically by fax or email as long as your signature is visible. (For the record, Secretary of State Bill Galvin urged people to hand-deliver their ballots during the primary.) You should request your ballot as far in advance of the election as possible -- the USPS is suggesting no later than October 20. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is 5pm on October 28.

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot?

There sure is. Massachusetts voters can now track their ballots online via the new Track My Ballot site. You need to enter your name and address (make sure it’s the address where you’re qualified to vote and not your mailing address, if that’s a different thing). If you live in a village, you can go to the separate list of village names to find the city or town name for your village. Needless to say, all the data entered must match the data on your mail-in ballot application.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Polls are open statewide from 7am to 8pm, though some may open earlier. Check here to find your polling location.

Voting by mail is likely the safest way to vote in this election, but there are ways to reduce your risk should you venture to your polling place to cast a ballot in a voting booth. A lot of this has become common sense by now: wear a mask (and gloves to be extra safe), stay socially distanced, and try to go to polls at a time when the foot traffic will be lighter.

Here is what the CDC recommends:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

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Meaghan Agnew is a Boston-based contributor for Thrillist.