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

Climate and Energy Solutions Series Moves to Cape Cod November 4


Almost 100 people came to hear Dr. Ellen Douglas’ frank discussion of sea level rise and climate change, a topic of particular interest to coastal communities such as Falmouth. Two Cape-based speakers, Stephanie Madsen and Max Holmes, joined her in a panel discussion to provide the local perspective.

This event is the last of five forums of LWVMA’s Climate and Energy Solutions Series.

Click here for an event flyer.

Click here for the slide presentation.

The event was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Falmouth and LWV of Massachusetts.

For a list of partnering organizations for the Climate and Energy Solutions Series click here.

 

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.

Strong Showing at Day on the Hill

The League showed up on Beacon Hill Tuesday, October 24 to “move the needle” on our legislative priorities—automatic voter registration, carbon pricing/energy, safe communities and immigration, and criminal justice reform, with presentations on those bills from Nancy Brumback, Launa Zimmaro, Karen Price and Colleen Kirby.

Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Patricia Haddad lauded the League for its commitment to voting rights and citizen action.  Creem, who is the sponsor for AVR and a criminal justice reform bill repealing mandatory minimums, urged League members to continue their pressure on the legislature to pass those bills.  Haddad noted the voting reforms, including early voting, that the League was instrumental in passing in the past and noted that AVR is the next step in making it more convenient for people to vote.

LWVMA also saluted Carole Pelchat, legislative director, who was at her final Day on the Hill before she moves to North Carolina.

Handouts

Great Time at the League Leaders’ Lunch

This fall’s League Leaders’ Lunch in Worcester offered more than fifty leaders from around the state an opportunity to learn, network, and share.  The day’s agenda included an update on what’s been happening at LWVMA and LWVUS, a presentation on League advocacy (how it works and what you can do), and a panel discussion with League leaders from three of our new units in Franklin County, Central Berkshire County and Greater Lowell.

“Ordinary women and men doing extraordinary things” summed up the comments from three of our new League units at the League Leaders lunch.  The panel included Marge Michalski, Treasurer, Franklin County unit; Kathie Penna, President, Central Berkshire unit; and Sabrina Heisey, leader of the Greater Lowell unit.  Each shared their impetus for forming a League unit and identified the League’s non-partisanship and focus on issues as two of the most important reasons why they chose the League as a vehicle for their engagement.

The new League units shared their perspectives about how they got started, and why forming a League was the channel for their activism.  Their enthusiasm was infectious; their facile use of communications and social media gave all of us some ideas to energize our own League members.

After lunch, everyone had an opportunity to share in small groups one idea that their League has done to engage new and existing members.  LWVMA staff offered a quick overview of the resources that the website and the office have to offer all our members.

Many thanks to our co-host Worcester League, who made us feel welcome in a great venue in a central location.

Presentations

What’s new at LWVMA and LWVUS – Year of Growth
League Advocacy: How It Works and What You Can Do
Sharing Roundtable Notes
LWVMA Staff: Who We Are, What We Do, and How We Can Help You

Handouts

Local League Basics
LWVMA Information and Links
Tools for Local Leagues
Field Service Regions
The Citizen Lobbyist Handbook
Legislative Envoy Program
2017 LWVMA Advocacy Agenda
Priority Bills
League Supported and Opposed Legislation
Voter Service Committee Update
LWVMA Funding Chart
What Would Alice Paul Do Flyer
Upcoming Events in 2017

“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.”

Hundreds Attend “Extreme Events and Climate Change” Forum at New England Aquarium

September 14, 2017–A sold-out crowd filled the Aquarium’s Simons IMAX® Theatre for “Extreme Events and Climate Change: What We Know and What We Can Do,” co-hosted by LWVMA and LWV-Boston, the New England Aquarium, and UMass Boston School for the Environment.

Dr. Ellen Douglas of UMass Boston laid out the evidence for the causes of climate change, its impact on sea level rise in Massachusetts, and efforts to overcome the devastating changes in store for the region through mitigation and adaptation.

This event is part of LWVMA’s 2017 Climate and Energy Solutions Series and can be viewed at this link.

The slide presentation may be viewed here.

To see her presentation in person, Dr. Douglas will be speaking at the final forum in the LWVMA Climate and Energy Solutions Series. LWV-Falmouth and LWVMA will co-host “Extreme Events and Climate Change Boston Area and Cape Cod: What We Know and What We Can Do” on November 4 at 1 p.m. at Falmouth Public Library. Speakers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Research Center will provide a local perspective.

Click here for a Falmouth forum flyer.

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.

Carbon pricing gaining advocates and momentum!

Putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to reduce emissions and change consumer behavior.

With increasing pressure to address climate change, and carbon pricing bills from both the Massachusetts Senate and House, there is growing momentum in the legislature to pass a carbon pricing bill this session.

Three webinars from the LWVUS Price on Carbon team highlight the importance and value of pricing carbon.

 

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.”