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Republican Bill Would Allow State To Cover Early Voting Costs

an early voting sign
Paul Tuthill

     Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate want to reimburse cities and towns for the state-mandated costs of last year’s early voting program. 

      Early voting in the 2016 election in Massachusetts cost the state’s municipalities an estimated $720,000 in expenses mandated by the state.  Republican State Senator Don Humason of Westfield said legislation that is to be filed this week by the Senate’s minority party will allow cities and towns to seek some financial assurance following the introduction of early voting.     

     "Now that the program has been implemented and was successful and we've had time to look back on it, I think it is a good idea our caucus files this bill," he said Tuesday.

     Humason said he expects there will be bipartisan support for the bill that would provide the state with the legal mechanism to reimburse cities and towns for early voting costs.

    " There will need to be an appropriation," said Humason.

     The 2016 election was the first time in Massachusetts that voters could cast ballots in-person before Election Day. More than one million people, roughly a quarter of the state’s registered voters, cast their ballots during the 11-day early voting period.

    Early voting was part of an election reform law enacted in 2014.

    "I think there was an assumption there would be more costs, but I don't remember there being as part of the debate then someone saying 'Hey let's pay for the cost'," said Humason.

    State Auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, in a report issued last month, concluded the procedures the state required cities and towns to follow for early voting imposed an unfunded mandate on local governments.

   "Because this was  a new requirement, because  providing private space ( for voting )that was staffed was a new expense it is required to be paid for by the state," Bump said she concluded.

    The auditor’s report opens the door for local governments to seek legislative changes to the early voting law that include state funding to cover the mandated expenses.

   Based on a survey of local officials, Bump’s office estimated that in-total municipalities spent almost $720,000 to satisfy the state law’s requirements for early voting.

       Municipalities spent an additional $1.2 million to go over and above the requirements of the early voting law by providing additional voting locations, night and weekend hours, and advertising.

   Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office made small grants available to cover some of the extra expenses.

   Early voting will be available for the 2018 election.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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