Front Page News, Improving Elections

Election Reform — at last!

UPDATE:   The election reform bill passed the House on Wednesday, May 14, by a final tally of 147-4.  It passed the Senate Thursday, May 15, 38-0.  Governor Deval Patrick signed it into law Thursday, May 22, a true victory for the voters of the Commonwealth.

The comprehensive election reform bill that the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and its coalition partners have been advocating for is coming up for a final vote.

The legislative conference committee reconciling the earlier House and Senate versions of the bill reported their compromise bill to the House Monday, May 12.  It is expected to be voted on by the House this week and the Senate shortly after.  It will then go to the Governor.

The bill, renumbered H.4072, makes major reforms in the way Massachusetts conducts elections.  It includes provisions for early voting, online voter registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, and post-election audits of voting machines.

“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts is pleased that the conference committee has approved this significant update to the state’s election laws. Many of the provisions make it easier to register to vote and easier to cast a ballot. In this increasingly complicated world, these are critical goals,” said Anne Borg, LWVMA co-president.

“When this bill is enacted and signed by the Governor, it will greatly improve Massachusetts’ standing as a state that supports access to the polls.  At a time when too many states are making it more difficult for citizens to register and to vote, Massachusetts should be proud to be moving in the opposite direction.”

Specifically the bill calls for:

  • Online voter registration.
  • Online portal to check voter registration status.
  • Pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, who then automatically become eligible to vote when they turn 18.
  • Early voting during business hours at a city or town’s election office. Cities and towns can extend early voting hours to weekends if they choose and offer additional sites for early voting. Early voting begins with the 2016 election.
  • Post-election audits of randomly-selected precincts after Presidential elections.
  • Creation of an elections task force to study additional issues, including cost of early voting and need for additional sites and hours, voter fraud, wait times, and Election Day voter registration.

The League has worked actively for these reforms for years, and has partnered with other voter advocacy organizations including Common Cause, MassVote, MassPIRG, and the ACLU of Massachusetts to persuade the legislature to pass them.  The coalition includes 45 organizations.  The coalition’s press release is available here.

While this bill does not include Election Day registration, it does create a task force to review additional election-related issues.  The conference committee has specifically charged this task force to include Election Day registration for Massachusetts as well as expansion of early voting hours in its work.

The bill does not contain any provisions for showing photo identification to vote.