The Voting Process

Where to vote…

Every precinct in Massachusetts is assigned a specific polling place. When you register to vote, you should receive an acknowledgement notice from your local election official informing you of your polling place. If you are casting your ballot in person, you must do so at the polling place assigned to your precinct. In towns, polling places are designated by the selectmen; in cities, polling places are designated by the city council. You may find your polling place here.

When to vote…

In all state elections and primaries, polling places must be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., though towns are allowed to open as early as 5:45 a.m. Voters who are in line when polls are closed at 8 p.m. must be allowed to vote. For municipal elections, polling hours will vary by city and town. Check with your local election official for polling hours for your municipal election.

How to vote…

When you enter your polling place, you must get in line to check-in. Some polling places may house more than one precinct, so be sure to check that you are in line for the correct precinct. When you approach the check-in table, you will be asked to state your address and then your name. If you are an unenrolled (commonly referred to as independent) voter or a member of a political designation and you are voting in a primary, you will also be asked which party's ballot you wish to choose. Poll workers are required to repeat this information back to you.

There are a few reasons that you may be required to show identification when you check-in. If you registered by mail and it is your first time voting in a federal election in Massachusetts, you may be required to show identification under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. You may also be asked to show identification if you are an inactive voter, you are casting a challenged ballot, or you are casting a provisional ballot. Please see "Showing Identification" below, for more information on these types of ballots.

Mark Your Ballot
After a poll worker has checked you in, you will be handed your ballot. If you are voting on a ballot which will be inserted into an optical scan machine, you will also be handed a secrecy sleeve with which to cover your marked ballot. You may proceed to an available voting booth where you may mark your ballot in private. Ballots are marked by the voter filling in ovals, connecting arrows, or marking an X next to candidates and questions. Read the top of your ballot for instructions on how to fill it out properly.

If you require assistance marking your ballot due to physical disability, inability to read or inability to read English, you may bring anyone of your choosing into the voting booth with you. Alternatively, you may ask for the assistance of two poll workers (by law, the poll workers assisting you should be of different political parties). If you would prefer to mark your ballot independently, you may use the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which is available in every polling place. The AutoMARK will read the ballot to you and mark the choices that you indicate. For more information on using the AutoMARK, please see here.

When you have finished marking your ballot, you must proceed to the check-out table, where you will once again be asked for your address and then your name. Again, if you are and unenrolled (commonly referred to as independent) voter or a member of a political designation and you are voting in a primary, you will be asked to inform the poll worker of the ballot that you chose. The poll worker must repeat all of this information back to you.

Cast Your Ballot
Once you have checked out, you may proceed to the ballot box, where you will insert your ballot. Most cities and towns in Massachusetts use optical scan ballots, which means that you will likely be inserting your paper ballot into a machine which will tally your ballot. If your town continues to use paper ballots which are tallied by hand at the end of the night, you will fold your ballot as indicated and insert it into the ballot box. In either case, a poll worker will be stationed near the ballot box to instruct you on how to cast your ballot.

At the close of polls, poll workers will remove the ballots from the locked ballot box. In communities which hand count their ballots, tellers will tally the votes by hand. In communities which use optical scan machines, poll workers will print out the machine tally, hand count any write-in ballots or ballots which could not be counted by the machine, and compile an unofficial tally. In all communities, the ballots must then be sealed in containers and the tally must be announced. This entire process is open to public viewing.

Showing Identification…

You may be asked to show identification at the check-in table for any of the following reasons:

  • You are voting for the first time in Massachusetts in a federal election;
  • You are an inactive voter;
  • You are casting a provisional or challenged ballot;
  • The poll worker has a reasonable suspicion that leads them to request identification.

You will not be required to present photo identification. For a full listing of acceptable forms of identification, please see our page on Identification.

Voting from a Previous Address

State law allows voters who have moved within Massachusetts to vote in state elections and primaries from a previous address for up to six months, as long as they have not registered at a new address. If you have moved from one community in Massachusetts to another, and you have not registered to vote at your new address, you may vote at your previous polling place. Please note that this does not apply to local elections.

Not on the List of Voters…

If your name does not appear on the list of voters and your registration cannot be verified, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot. For more information, see our page on provisional voting.

Questions or Concerns…

If you feel that your right to vote has been violated in any way, call the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Elections Division at 1-800-462-VOTE (8683).