State senators Thursday voted to lower the signature requirements candidates need to make the ballot in certain races while a bipartisan group of office-seekers asked the Supreme Judicial Court for even greater relief as COVID-19 renders traditional canvassing efforts impossible.

The bill would lower the number of signatures required for U.S. Senate candidates from 10,000 to 5,000, and from 2,000 to 1,000 for congressional candidates. Governor’s Council and some county offices would be reduced from 1,000 to 500. It did not change the due dates for nomination papers: April 28 for district and county offices, and May 5 for federal and statewide candidates.

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said the bill “strikes a balance by ensuring those who decide to run for public office demonstrate the necessary support they have in their communities without endangering their health or the health of others.”

The House did not immediately take up the legislation.

Also Thursday the Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on an emergency petition filed on behalf of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Kevin O’Connor, Democratic 8th Congressional District candidate Robert Goldstein and state representative candidate Melissa Bower Smith saying signature collection is “practically impossible for many candidates” during the coronavirus.

Continuing to enforce minimum signature requirements “significantly interferes with the petitioners’ ballot access rights,” Attorney Rob Jones argued. Jones called to either void the requirement entirely, or to institute a two-thirds reduction in the number of signatures needed, a “modest” deadline extension and to allow electronic signatures — and to extend that relief to state House and Senate candidates as well.

The state said eliminating the signature requirement could overload the ballot. Secretary of State William Galvin instead suggested the 50% reduction in the Senate proposal, to extend the deadline for county and district candidates to match federal candidates, and to allow a “limited form of electronic signatures.”

Seeking to minimize public health risks for the September and November elections, state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, filed a bill to mail ballots to all registered voters for both elections, while still allowing in-person voting — with personal protective equipment for poll workers.

U.S. Reps. Joe Kennedy III, Ayanna Pressley, Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern and Lori Trahan issued a joint call Thursday for statewide vote by mail in Massachusetts and for $4 billion in federal funding to increase mail balloting and election security nationwide. Without those reforms, Kennedy said the nation could see the “widespread impact of voter suppression.”


Original story here.