BOSTON – August 4, 2016 – With Massachusetts’ first experience with early voting beginning in just over two months, the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition today said that nearly 40% of the state’s municipalities are in the final planning stages for early voting, 35% have started planning, and 13% had no plans as of July 20th. The information came from a phone survey of all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns conducted by Common Cause, MASSPIRG, and the League of Women Voters in June and July. 12% of Massachusetts communities could not reached.
“If communities have enough hours and locations, early voting promises to shorten long lines at busy polling places, improve the voting experience, and give Massachusetts citizens more opportunities to participate in democracy,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts during a Coalition press conference at Boston City Hall. “Today, we are very pleased to report to that many cities and towns in Massachusetts are well on their way to a successful implementation of early voting.”
“For 96 years, the League of Women Voters has worked to ensure that voting and elections are free, fair and accessible, and early voting in Massachusetts is one more important step toward improving access to the voting booth for all voters,” said Meryl Kessler, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. “We are heartened by the progress many municipalities have made toward robust implementation of the new law, and we hope other municipalities will follow suit.”
The Coalition campaigned for passage of the 2014 Election Modernization Law that established early voting and other reforms. Last fall, it launched the Early Voting Challenge to encourage municipalities to go beyond the floor set by the law (one location operating during business hours) and meet the Coalition’s recommended standards, based on best practices from other states, to ensure robust early voting opportunities for Massachusetts voters. These standards include providing at least one early voting site for every 35,000 people in a given community and providing evening and weekend hours for voting.
The Coalition plans to award Gold and Silver medals to cities and towns that meet those standards later this fall. The Gold Medal will go to communities that offer an adequate number of sites, at least two evenings of weeknight voting per week, and six or more hours of weekend voting. The Silver will go to communities that offer an adequate number of sites, at least one weeknight of evening voting per week, and four or more hours of weekend voting.
This phone survey obtained information from 313 of the 351 cities and towns in the state and found that 138 municipalities had already made final or nearly final plans, 126 had tentative plans, and 49 had not yet started planning for early voting.
Currently, nine municipalities appear to be progressing towards a Gold Medal, and 40 towards the Silver Medal. 175 communities plan to offer extended evening hours, and 83 will offer weekend hours.
Coalition members stressed that the data is preliminary and very much in flux.
Election officials from the City of Boston joined the groups to tout their comprehensive early voting plan that includes nine sites, as well as evening and weekend voting.
“In Boston we are proud to support early voting and have worked hard on a comprehensive plan that will make voting more accessible to all residents,” said Dion Irish, Commissioner and Chairman of the Boston Election Commission. “Feedback from the community was an important part of determining the final plan for early voting in Boston, and we were encouraged by the positive responses from people who are thrilled to have the opportunity to vote at a time that is convenient for them. As we look forward to November, it is our hope that early voting will expand access to ballot for residents of Boston.”
The Coalition was also joined by Salem City Councilor, and Chair of the Salem Early Voting Task Force, David Eppley, who spoke about the robust early voting plans in his city.
“Salem has been proactive as a community in bringing together various stakeholders and public officials with our Early Voting Task Force,” said Councilor Eppley. “We are aiming to have an early voting poll site for weekend hours in a largely Latino neighborhood as well as extended hours on separate days at our centrally located high school. This is in addition to a dedicated special site within city hall for the entire early voting period. We are already discussing how we might expand in future elections. Early Voting is a big win for our citizens, for our voter turnout, and for democracy.”
Despite widespread progress towards expanded early voting, the Coalition noted that some communities are lagging behind and need to do better.
“Although lots of communities are doing a great job on early voting, many others don’t yet have concrete plans to provide sufficient access for their residents,” said Gavi Wolfe of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “There’s a particular need for Gateway Cities to step up. In mid-size municipalities with more than 35,000 people and lots of them working extra jobs to make ends meet, it’s essential to offer multiple early voting sites and weekend hours. These details really matter if we want to make sure people can actually exercise their right to vote.”
The Coalition plans to continue to monitor progress in each city and town and will award final Gold and Silver Medals at a ceremony later in the fall.
The groups noted that a successful implementation of early voting will have a particular impact on those with multiple jobs and minimal resources.
“Early voting is particularly crucial for communities of color and low-income communities” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “This initiative provides flexibility and additional options for voters who cannot afford to take time off of work or who work more than one job, as well as single parents without childcare.”
“Studies show that if you cast your first vote at age 18, voting becomes a habit for life,” added Janet Domenitz, executive director of MassPIRG. “Expanding the time frame in which young people can cast their first vote will, we hope, create more good-habit voters for life.”
“Momentum is building across Massachusetts for early voting,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford of MassVOTE. “Although we still have work to do, local officials have been working hard preparing to implement the new law, and many are meeting our recommendations to expand voter participation and voting rights in Massachusetts. We hope every community will help early voting realize its full potential.”
For more, please go to www.earlyvotingma.com.
Detailed information on the survey available upon request.
The Election Modernization Coalition is made up of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, MassVOTE, and more.