Posted Jan 16, 2014
With passage of an election reform bill by a 37-1 margin Thursday, the Senate has taken a giant step to make Massachusetts one of the leading states in the nation in encouraging its citizens to register and to vote. At a time when many states are actively cutting back access to the polls, the Massachusetts legislature deserves high praise for taking the opposite stance.
The final version of the Senate bill includes Election Day registration, early voting with some required weekend hours, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, online voter registration and an online portal where citizens can check their voting status, and post-election audits of random precincts. It ties classification of a voter as inactive to voting history rather than to returning the town or city census form.
Proposals to require voters to show a photo ID or other forms of identification before casting a ballot were defeated in the Senate.
Among the many amendments which passed in the Senate were provisions to:
- Eliminate the check-out table in the polling place, a move supported by the clerks’ associations
- Require that the link to the online portal to check registration status be posted on city and town websites
- Require that the legislature provide funding to cover the costs of early voting on weekends
- Take a step toward permanent voter registration by enabling the Secretary of State’s office to update voting lists based on change of address information from the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Postal Service
- Allow a voter registered “in a political designation that is not a political party” to be considered unenrolled for the purpose voting in a primary and eligible to receive a ballot of a political party of the voter’s choosing.
The Senators passed a provision to allow 17-year-olds in Lowell to vote in municipal elections, a move inspired by teen civic activists in that city which has also been considered as a home rule petition. Voters in Lowell will have to approve allowing 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections.
The Senate bill builds on the election reform bill passed by the House last November. It now goes to conference committee to reconcile the differences, then to the House for passage of the reconciled version before it is sent to the Governor for his signature.
The effort to pass this bill was driven by the Election Modernization Coalition, made up of 45 advocacy groups and led by Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, ACLU Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, the Massachusetts Voter Table, MIRA Coalition and Progressive Massachusetts.