Improving Elections and Voter Turnout

High School Voter Registration project 2012

High School Voter Registration project 2012

Massachusetts took a major step to update its voter registration and election processes. Governor Deval Patrick signed an election reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the legislature at the end of May 2014.

This law includes provisions for early voting, online voter registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, and post-election audits of voting machines.

The League worked actively for these reforms for years, and partnered with other voter advocacy organizations including Common Cause, MassVote, MassPIRG, and the ACLU of Massachusetts to persuade the legislature to pass them. The Election Modernization Coalition includes 45 organizations.

The new law should greatly improve Massachusetts’ standing as a state that supports access to the polls.  Rock the Vote had ranked Massachusetts 42out of the 50 states for failure to implement modern procedures such as online registration and early voting.

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 new law calls for:

  • Online voter registration.
  • Online portal to check voter registration status. This portal is already available on the Secretary of State’s website,
  • 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.

These are significant improvements, but there is more work to be done.   The League and its coalition partners will continue to advocate to require some evening and weekend hours for early voting, to explore “permanent or portable” registration that automatically changes a voter’s registration when the voter moves within Massachusetts, and to implement Election Day registration, the reform that has been shown to have the greatest impact on voter participation.

We will also work to extend early voting to state elections as well as Presidential elections and to provide for audits after state elections, not just after Presidential ones.