House approves paid time off for Election Day voting

The House approved legislation last week allowing employees to take paid time off on Election Day to cast their ballots in person.

The House approved legislation last week allowing employees to take paid time off on Election Day to cast their ballots in person. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By ALISON KUZNITZ

State House News Service

Published: 12-17-2023 2:02 PM

BOSTON — Seeking to remove more barriers to voting, the House approved legislation last week allowing employees to take paid time off on Election Day to cast their ballots in person.

Without discussion, lawmakers passed the bill (H 4217) during an informal session, about 90 minutes after the House Ways and Means Committee released it. Employees who don’t have enough time to vote at the polls outside of their working hours can request time off and give their bosses three business days’ notice, according to the bill.

Employers cannot force employees to vote by mail or during early voting under the legislation, which is based off a Rep. John Lawn proposal. The bill also gives the attorney general enforcement authority.

“The legislation that was advanced by the House today will help to guarantee that every Massachusetts voter has time to vote on Election Day, regardless of the constraints of their job, a critical step toward ensuring that every eligible voter has the chance to make their voice heard at the ballot box,” Speaker Ron Mariano said in a statement.

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development favorably reported a version of the bill last session, but the House Ways and Means Committee took no action on it.

Existing state law allows workers only in specific industries — including “in any manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishment” — to take time off for voting. But employers have discretion whether they pay their workers or not.

Sen. Brendan Crighton, the Senate sponsor of accompanying legislation, called that statute antiquated.

“We’ve done a great job with early voting and mail-in voting and many other areas, but this one seems like a commonsense update,” Crighton said.

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The VOTES Act that former Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law last year codified pandemic-era flexibilities, including making mail-in voting permanent and expanding access to early voting.

But Rep. Donald Wong, who attended the House session Thursday, said not all people trust mail-in voting and prefer to vote in person.

“I think it just kind of gives people more options,” the Saugus Republican said.

Geoff Foster, executive director of democracy advocacy organization Common Cause Massachusetts, said the bill is a “really good next step.” Multiple obstacles continue to hinder Massachusetts voters, including their availability to go to the polls, he said.

“People don’t typically work 9 to 5 anymore — it’s exacerbated with hybrid and remote work,” Foster said. “I think we’re in a new era and we’re in a new period post-pandemic where there’s a bunch of new normals being developed. And I think it’s really important and I’m glad to see the Legislature acting on this — it’s really important we continue to modernize our elections and address barriers.”

Foster urged lawmakers to tackle additional voting reforms, including enabling same-day voter registration, ensuring voters aren’t penalized for not completing municipal census forms and improving disability access at polling sites.