After Low-Turnout Election, Coalition Calls for Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts

Nov. 9, 2017/BOSTON, MA — Citing very low voter turnout in Tuesday’s municipal elections, advocates from the Election Modernization gathered at the State House in Boston today to urge the Massachusetts legislature to adopt Automatic Voter Registration. The coalition is led by Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, and Progressive Massachusetts.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) would establish a system for eligible citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with a state agency like the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth. The AVR legislation, introduced by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Peter Kocot, has popular support in both legislative chambers, with 80 House co-sponsors and 22 Senate sponsors, and received a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws this summer.

“In this moment, when the health of our democracy is a great concern, and the security of elections is under scrutiny, our legislature can adopt a policy change that will make voting simpler, reduce government bureaucracy, and enhance democracy,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “AVR could register nearly 700,000 eligible Massachusetts citizens into and give them an opportunity to have their voices heard. At the same time, it would update and modernize our election system by increasing its accuracy, security, and efficiency.”

The legislation is also endorsed by 53 organizations including environmental, civil rights, consumer, community, labor, and good government groups (see list below).

In Oregon, the first state to implement AVR, 230,000 voters registered in its first six months, and more than 265,000 inaccurate registrations were updated. 97,000 voters participated in the 2016 election because of the reform. Ten states and the District of Columbia have already passed automatic voter registration, all in a bipartisan manner: Oregon, California, West Virginia, Alaska, Vermont, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

“The League strongly supports automatic voter registration as the next logical step in the modernization of the electoral process here in Massachusetts,” Meryl Kessler, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, said. “AVR will improve the accuracy of voter rolls, create a more efficient and reliable voting system, help control the costs of voter registration over time, and improve the voting process on Election Day.”

“Automatic voter registration is a step in the right direction,” added Cheryl Clyburn Crawford of MassVOTE. “It would remove one of the barriers that disproportionately affects our most disenfranchised communities. We strongly believe that automatic voter registration in Massachusetts will increase voter participation and turnout while continuing to modernize our electoral process.”

“This is a bipartisan, common sense, 21st century bill which will make voter registration more accessible, more secure and less costly in the Commonwealth,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “We have Republican and Democrat supporters in the Legislature, while the Republican Governor of Illinois signed a similar bill into law this summer. In a time of hyper-partisanship in this country, we’re inspired to call for this bill’s passage.”

Advocacy organizations behind the effort, including Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, Progressive Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice have worked together for many years to promote voting access and reform. They see automatic voter registration as a continuation of earlier efforts in the state, like early voting, to improve access to the ballot. Early voting was a resounding success; In its first debut, over one million voters cast their ballots early in October 2016, accounting for over 22% of registered voters and 35% of those that voted.

53 (and counting) endorsing organizations (alphabetical order):

Action Together Western Mass

American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts

AFSC – Cambridge

Berkshire Democratic Brigades

Berkshire Women’s Action Group

Black Directors Network

Boston Democratic Ward 4 Committee

Boston Teachers Union

Cambridge Democratic City Cmmtt

CAST (Cambridge Area Stronger Together)

Clean Water Action

Coalition for Social Justice

College Democrats of MA

Common Cause Massachusetts

Corporate Accountability International

Democracy for America

Democracy Matters

ELM Action Fund

ForwardMA

Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association

Green Tea Party

Indivisable Pittsfield

Jewish Association for Law and Social Action (JALSA)

Jewish Community Relations Council

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice

League of Women Voters MA

Lift Every Vote Berkshires

Mass Law Reform Institute

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Organization

Massachusetts Jobs with Justice

Massachusetts Peace Action

Massachusetts Sierra Club

Massachusetts Teachers Association

Massachusetts Voter Table

MASSPIRG

Mass Affordable Housing Alliance

MassVOTE

NAACP Boston

National Association of Social Workers, Massachusetts Chapter

Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts Education Fund

New England United for Justice

Our Revolution Cambridge

PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts)

Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

Progressive Democrats of America Boston chapter

Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts

Progressive Massachusetts

SEIU Local 509

SEIU Massachusetts State Council

Sierra Club

Small Planet Institute

Union of Minority Neighborhoods

Young Democrats of Massachusetts

October 2017 Awards to Nine Local Leagues

Nine Leagues received Daniel Scharfman Citizen Education grants in October 2017:

LWV Cape Ann: LWVCA organized a voter education event for the contested seats in the Gloucester city election on November 7th.  There are seven candidates for four Councilor-at-Large seats and one contested Ward Councilor race with two candidates.  All nine candidates agreed to participate. Nine Gloucester High School students researched the voting history and stances of the candidates on issues.  Each student worked with one candidate and with one adult volunteer on the research. A public forum was held on October 18th at the Sawyer Free Public Library for all candidates.  Each student got to ask his or her candidate one question, and members of the audience submitted questions. The students will also assist at the polls, under the direction of the City Clerk, on Election Day.   They will receive school credit for community service. The forum was videotaped by Cape Ann TV and will be aired several times before the election.

LWV Framingham: As Framingham transitions from a town to a city form of government, it will have an election for the first mayor and the first city council.  LWV Framingham organized three Candidates Showcases to inform citizens. The first showcase was attended by over 250 people. The second Showcase highlighted the 18 candidates for the 9 City Council seats.  The final Showcase featured the four candidates for the At Large City Council seats and the two candidates for Mayor.

LWV Franklin County:   On October 6,  LWV Franklin County hosted a Civics Trivia Night contest with State Rep. Paul Mark and Greenfield Town Councilor at Large Rudy Renaud as quizmasters. Questions spread over five rounds covered local and national government, as well as local and national history. Approximately 85 people attended.

LWV Greater Haverhill: LWVGH has been attending Naturalization Ceremonies in Lowell and will use these funds to purchase miniature flags to hand out with voter registration forms to new citizen candidates as they enter the auditorium. A member of this League will explain to the candidates how to complete the form and that completed forms will be collected at the end of the event and mailed to their local city or town clerk.

LWV Greater Lowell: The Greater Lowell League of Women voters will undertake an educational program to educate Dracut voters on the importance and value of their vote at Town Meeting. The study will have three parts: The first part will be a survey of active voters that will be done online to understand their views of town meeting and the barriers they face in attending town meeting, and provide them with an opportunity to present their own ideas to make town meeting more accessible. The second part of the program will launch an initiative in the weeks prior to the November town meeting incorporating the survey results with hopeful solutions to overcoming town meeting participation. The third part of the program will follow up after town meeting with  survey participants to see what the success rate was of activating new town meeting participants.

LWV Hamilton-Wenham On October 3, LWVHW hosted an interactive forum discussion on Media Literacy entitled, “#WTF* (*Fact or Fiction): Decoding Media in 2017, Left, Right and Center,” featuring four distinguished panelists.  The goals were to educate, provide decoding tools, and facilitate civil discourse in our communities. The event was free and open to the public and approximately 130 people attended the event.

LWV Melrose: The local Melrose election will be held on November 7, and LWV Melrose has organized and held the live forums where candidates for office express their points of view and take questions from the public. The sessions are taped by the local cable channel and replayed for 4-6 weeks up to the election. \

LWV Needham: “Working Together for a Greener Future” was a LWV-Needham/Green Needham Collaborative project to raise awareness of environmental issues, recognize organizations working together on this issue, and promote future collaboration.

LWV Wellesley: The Opening Meeting on September 28 featured Dr. Mira Bernstein, an Associate Professor at Tufts University who gave a lecture open to the public entitled “Gerrymandering:  Why It’s More Complicated Than Most People Think.” The lecture was held from 7 – 8:30 pm at the Wellesley Community Center with refreshments provided at 6:30 pm and a question and answer period following Dr. Bernstein’s talk.  The talk was videotaped and is available for viewing at Wellesley Public Media.

“Making Government Work for You” Workshop Draws Big Crowd

September 18, 2017/Arlington, MA–Nearly 100 people filled the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington to learn some of the finer points of changing laws and public policies from featured speakers Colleen Kirby, criminal-justice legislative specialist for the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, and the 4th Middlesex (MA) District’s newly elected state senator, Cindy Friedman.

Kirby told a story of how one man’s outrage at seeing birds hunted in a public area prompted his advocacy and eventual success in protecting the birds. The story was an example of steps to take to change policies:

1. Identify the problem and its parts.

2. Join a group, even a small one, to explain the problem to others.

3. Learn about the issue and identify the end result desired.

4. Develop relationships with all interested parties.

5. Form coalitions to more broadly inform others in workshops and forums and via their networks.

6. Be prepared for unexpected changes to public and political priorities.

7. Show public support (through protests, press visibility), so politicians have to respond and act.

Kirby then provided an overview of the usual, complex two-year process by which bills may become laws in Massachusetts, but noted “it’s not working that way this year.” Because 5,000 to 6,000 bills may be filed by the end of January at the beginning of the process, it’s impossible for all legislators to learn about all of them.

In the current cycle, the state Legislature has instead grouped some of the bills to take a more systematic approach to addressing various aspects of interacting issues. Kirby stressed that the best way for advocates to lobby for an issue is to become a resource for your own legislator, educating and informing her or him through your testimony at hearings and in phone calls or personal appointments. Additionally, forming coalitions broadens statewide support for your issue, because people in other legislative districts will know what to say about it to their own legislators.

In her discussion of criminal justice reform, Sen. Friedman applauded the House bill’s antirecidivism measures but explained why the Senate’s more-comprehensive omnibus, or “package,” bill would do even more good. It would: allow for civil violations (rather than criminal charges) for some arrested for possession of drugs; reform the bail process; eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing; limit the use of solitary confinement; permit medical releases for prisoners needing end-of-life care; allow more-flexible rules about fines and fees, so the indigent can actually pay for penalties but avoid additional financial harm; and for juvenile justice, raise the age for “adult” crime.

Sen. Friedman outlined her “personal tips” for how to work effectively with legislators. Phone calls are more effective than e-mails or letters, and calling your own legislators with a clear message very important. Little time exists for legislators to talk with other people who are not their constituents. To reach a legislator from another district, form coalitions, so that constituents from that district can accompany you to lobby their legislator.

In concluding, she recommended patience with our highly effective but imperfect democratic process: “Progress is slow by design. Imagine if all 5,000 bills were enacted one after another like this. There would be chaos.”

LWVMA Opposes Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Provisions in Gov. Baker Bill

September 8, 2017–The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supports efforts to address the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, but we do not support the provisions in Governor Baker’s bill to add to existing mandatory minimum sentencing in the case of a drug sale leading to death.

The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission has been thorough in its examination of the sentencing guidelines in Massachusetts and has found that conventional drug enforcement and treatment of offenders is most effective in reducing drug consumption or drug-related crime. The Commission is currently working on reforming and updating these guidelines. We are concerned that Governor Baker’s provision will increase drug overdose deaths if some people fear reporting an overdose.

During this time of increasing deaths due to opioids, we want to encourage everyone to report overdoses so that the most lives are saved. We applaud Governor Baker’s concern over this crisis, but we fear the mandatory minimum sentencing provision will slow progress.

League Condemns DACA Policy Reversal

September 5, 2017–The League of Women Voters today condemned the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) program.  Read the full statement from LWV President Chris Carson here:

“This administration’s decision to rescind the ‘Dreamers’ program is shameful and does not serve national interest.

“As a country of immigrants, we are made stronger by our diversity. Yet time and time again, this administration has discriminated against immigrants and communities of color.

“Reversing the DACA policy will have a devastating impact on our economy. Ending this program will increase unemployment.

“Thousands of the Dreamers protected by DACA were brought to this country as babies and have no memories of their birth country. These individuals are paying taxes, contributing to Social Security and Americans, in everything but the name.

“The League of Women Voters is opposed to deportation of non-criminal undocumented immigrants and we urge congress to pass a clean Dreamers Act to protect, not turn away, the 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children.”

 

 

Election Modernization Coalition Statement on Illinois Governor Rauner’s Signing of Automatic Voter Registration Bill

Boston, MA/August 28, 2017–Today, Illinois became the tenth state, along with the District of Columbia, to successfully enact automatic voter registration (AVR). Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed into a law a bill that creates more accessible and secure elections by automatically registering voters unless they opt out of the program. The bill won bipartisan support and passed unanimously in the legislature earlier this year.

The new law will add roughly one million new eligible voters to the voter rolls. Similar laws in other states have been proven to increase turnout and make elections more secure by modernizing the voter registration process. It is a common sense and long overdue reform.

As organizations that have worked tirelessly together for many years to remove barriers to voting, we applaud the action of Governor Rauner and the Illinois state legislature and call on the Massachusetts legislature to pass Automatic Voter Registration in our state. As the cradle of liberty, Massachusetts should lead the way towards removing unnecessary barriers for voting and ensuring that every Bay Stater has a voice in our democracy.

Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts

Meryl Kessler, League of Women Voters, Massachusetts

Beth Huang, Mass Voter Table

Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, MassVOTE

Jonathan Cohn, Progressive Massachusetts

A pdf of this statement is available here.

 

LWVMA Statement on Charlottesville and Boston Rallies

Boston, MA/August 18, 2017–As our nation grapples with the terrifying and tragic events in Charlottesville, and as the City of Boston braces for a “Free Speech Rally” on the Common tomorrow, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts (LWVMA) must speak out.  For almost 100 years, the League has been a nonpartisan defender of democracy.  While we cherish the individual rights of free speech and assembly, we feel a special responsibility to make our voice heard when those rights are used to incite hate and violence, and when they serve as tools to divide our nation rather than unite us as a free people.

Representing 3,000 members in over 100 Massachusetts communities, LWVMA strongly and unequivocally condemns racism, bigotry and violence.  With one voice, we reaffirm our commitment to these core, democratic values: promoting social and economic justice, securing equal rights for all, and combating discrimination and poverty.

We applaud Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for taking a coordinated and clear stand against hateful rhetoric, intimidation, and violence and for reminding us all, in Boston and the Commonwealth, of what we stand for: civil rights, equality, unity in our diversity, love, and justice for all.  As Boston readies for tomorrow’s rally, let us all keep these greater goals in mind and work together to achieve them.

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts Board and Staff

Election Modernization Coalition Applauds Ruling On Voter Registration Deadline

Boston,MA/July 24, 2017–A decision handed down today by a Suffolk Superior Court judge opened a huge window that has been shut to many eligible voters. As a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, MassVOTE, and the Chelsea Collaborative, Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled that the 20-day voter registration deadline in Massachusetts disenfranchises thousands of potential voters and is unconstitutional.

As organizations that have worked tirelessly together for many years to remove barriers to voting, we are thrilled with this decision and we applaud the work of the plaintiffs and their attorneys. We are also gratified that the decision refers to the successes of early voting and online voter registration, reforms for which we advocated for years.

We still have more barriers to voting in Massachusetts than we should tolerate, and more solutions—such as automatic voter registration and election day registration—than we are using. We look forward to continuing our work to make democracy thrive in Massachusetts.

Pam Wilmot, Common Cause, Massachusetts

Meryl Kessler, League of Women Voters, Massachusetts

Beth Huang, Mass Voter Table

Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, MassVOTE

Jonathan Cohn, Progressive Massachusetts

LWVMA Thanks Secretary Galvin for Refusing to Comply with Voter Record Request

The League strongly condemns the recent request from President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission for voter records, including private information, from all 50 states; at the same time, LWVMA applauds Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin for refusing to comply with the request and has sent him a letter thanking him for his stance.  We encourage LWVMA members to also contact Secretary Galvin to thank him for his refusal to comply with the commission’s request.

The letter to Secretary Galvin from LWVMA Co-presidents Mary Ann Ashton and Linda Matys O’Connell reads:

July 5, 2017

Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
McCormack Building
One Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108

 

Dear Secretary Galvin,

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts applauds you for your refusal to turn over voter records to the Election Integrity Commission, as reported in several media outlets this past week.  We thank you for your continuing efforts to ensure that voters’ right to privacy and to vote are protected in our Commonwealth.

The League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) has issued a strong statement condemning this week’s request from Kris Kobach, vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, for state voter records.  We agree with you that the law in the Commonwealth has established that the voter record is not a public record, and stand firmly with you that these records should not be released and that voter’s privacy should be protected.

With our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition, we have worked with your office to improve and protect elections, and recognize that you are committed to ensuring that there are no opportunities for voter fraud or for voter suppression in our state.  We thank you for your many efforts on behalf of the Commonwealth’s voters, and look forward to continuing to work with you.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Ann Ashton                                                       Linda Matys O’Connell
Co-president                                                               Co-president

June 2017 Joint Award to Three Local Leagues

Three Leagues jointly received Daniel Scharfman citizen education grant in June 2017.

The Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston Leagues received a grant to cover costs associated with their 9th Annual Civics Bee in April 2017. The event was also co-sponsored by the Sudbury Curtis Middle School Parent Organization.

The Civics Bee educates both participants and the public about how our US, state, and local governments work.  Public school middle and high school Social Science teachers supported the Bee by coaching student participants. Inter-generational teams of adults, middle school students, and high school students from the 3 towns competed to answer questions about civics.  This year, 49 total students, adults, and coaches participated. Material covered in school is reinforced and covered in more depth as students study for the Bee. Topics covered include the US Constitution, the three branches of federal government, and the three towns’ local governments.  This year the special topic was the Supreme Court, with extra questions about landmark court cases.  Questions on how to register to vote and how to vote are asked every year.

The next deadline to apply for a Scharfman grant is October 17. Information and an application form are available here.