BOSTON — The Democratic-controlled state Senate pushed through a major overhaul of the state’s voting laws on Wednesday that will make mail and early balloting permanent and allow people to register and vote on the same day.

The legislation, approved 36-3 vote along party lines, will allow same-day voter registration and makes no-excuse mail-in voting and expanded early voting permanent for federal, state and local elections. It will also require state prisons to ensure that inmates who are eligible to vote can receive ballots.

The measure must still be approved by the House of Representatives and survive Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto pen to become law.

Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who helped draft the measure, said the state’s election system has been “restrictive and inequitable for too long.”

“It has prevented people with disabilities from exercising their right to vote. It has disenfranchised shift workers who have no control over their schedule,” he said in remarks from the Senate floor. “And it has continued to exclude communities that have historically been excluded.”

Finegold said the state’s foray into expanded early and mail voting, permitted under emergency rules enacted during the pandemic, has proven there are more ways to cast a ballot than standing in line on Election Day.

“The pandemic has shown us that we are not bound to these outdated methods,” he said. “It is time for change.”

Republicans filed several amendments to the proposal to scale back the mail and early voting provisions and require voter ID to cast ballots, but the Democratic majority rejected their proposals.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, one of three Republicans who voted against the bill, questioned whether making early and mail voting permanent could run afoul of the state constitution.

He noted that the constitution cites only three exceptions where Massachusetts voters should be required to cast ballots in person: if they are absent from their city or town on Election Day, have a physical disability that prevents them from voting in person, or have a religious objection to casting their ballot on that day.

Tarr said lawmakers shouldn’t be “playing dice” with the constitution.

Finegold pushed back on those arguments, saying he was confident the changes to the state’s voting laws will pass constitutional muster.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle invoked the nation’s Founding Fathers, from Samuel Adams to Thomas Jefferson, to make their arguments for or against the changes to the state’s election laws.

Democrats pointed to voter suppression efforts in other states to support their case for passing the reforms in Massachusetts. Republicans said there were a lack of safeguards in the bill that would open the door for abuse of the system.

The legislation proved by Senate on Wednesday will also allow same-day voter registration. Under current law, voters must register at least 20 days before an election, but good government groups say the cutoff disenfranchises voters.

Baker, a Republican, has supported mail and early voting laws during the pandemic — signing two extensions of the emergency rules — but has been skeptical about same-day voter registration.

So have members of the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives, which must also approve the bill before it lands on Baker’s desk.

Last year, the House rejected a proposal that would have allowed same-day voter registration.

The state’s emergency mail-in voting and expanded early voting authorization is set to expire Dec. 15, absent action to extend or replace the rules.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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