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Following Defeat of Federal Voting Bill in U.S. Senate, Election Modernization Coalition urges Massachusetts Legislature to pass VOTES Act

The Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition is deeply disappointed that the U.S. Senate cannot find a way to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to protect access to the ballot box across the country. Senate Republicans had previously blocked even beginning debate on legislation passed by the U.S. House, including the For The People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Among other important reforms, the federal legislation would have included  same-day voter registration, no-excuse vote-by-mail, permanent early voting, and “gold-standard” post-election audits. Fortunately for those of us in the Commonwealth, we have another path to ensure that same level of access for Bay State voters.

The Massachusetts Legislature must now move quickly to pass the VOTES Act (S.2554), which includes same-day voter registration and other voting reforms for our state. The bill will implement same-day registration and make permanent the expansion of voting by mail and in-person early voting put in place in 2020 because of the pandemic. The bill has passed the Senate and is currently in the House Ways & Means Committee.

Our Coalition urges the House to pass the VOTES Act, including its provision for same-day registration, to help Massachusetts catch up to the 21 other states which already allow people to register or correct their voter registration and cast their ballot on the same day, and to offset the failure of election reform at the federal level. In a week full of celebration and recognition, passage of this Massachusetts bill would honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all civil rights activists.

The Election Modernization Coalition is made up of Common Cause Massachusetts, ACLU of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, MassPIRG and Lawyers for Civil Rights

Voting Reforms Set to Lapse Next Week

House Debate On Broader Bill Expected In 2022

DEC. 8, 2021…..With time running out on temporary pandemic measures such voting by mail and expanded early voting, election reform advocates said Wednesday they don’t know whether the Legislature might consider another extension before next Wednesday, or allow the voting options to lapse while the House considers action on a broader bill.

“We are mindful of the deadline next week. We’re excited if the Legislature chooses to address it in the next few days, but I think more importantly to us at this point, we’re hopeful that the House can take up a debate on the VOTES Act in the weeks or months ahead,” said Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Foster helped lead an online briefing for members and staff on behalf of the Election Modernization Coalition on the VOTES Act, a comprehensive bill passed by the Senate in October that would permanently authorize voting by mail and expanded early voting, and also allow for voters to register and vote on the same day during the early voting period before elections and on election day itself.

The House has voted for pieces of the VOTES Act in the past but so far has not taken up the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate, and Speaker Ron Mariano hasn’t outlined the House’s plans to address the situation. The VOTES Act would also take steps to facilitate voting for eligible inmates in state jails, and require Massachusetts to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that works with states to improve the accuracy of voter rolls.

With the Legislature currently meeting in only informal sessions, a debate in the House on the VOTES Act won’t happen until January at the earliest, but a temporary extension of voting reforms first put in place last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is due to expire on Dec. 15.

Rep. John Lawn, a sponsor of the VOTES Act and a former chair of the Committee on Election Laws, said the bill offers a “road map for a 21st century democracy in Massachusetts.”

“After those elections last fall, we knew that Massachusetts had work to do in order to make our elections more secure, more accessible, and more equitable,” Lawn said.

Lawn said Wednesday’s briefing was intended to make sure House members and staff interested in learning more about the bill had that opportunity. Thanking Elections Laws Committee Chairman Dan Ryan, who was not on the call, Lawn said, “We’re hopeful that today’s conversation will make your work easier in the House as it considers legislation to make our democracy stronger.”

Lawn left the call before a question-and-answer session, and none of the advocates or other legislators on the video conference offered any explanation for why the House has not yet acted on the bill, or if another temporary extension might be under consideration.

“I do know that we continue to have really good conversation with folks in leadership who support many of the provision in the VOTES Act,” Foster said.

The House and Senate in June allowed the temporary pandemic voting options to expire, but in July revived them with an extension through the middle of December. Should these rules be allowed to lapse again, it’s possible that a special general election to fill a vacant Senate seat in January in Boston, Revere, Cambridge and Winthrop will be held without an expanded early voting window or the option to vote by mail.

Mariano’s office would not say whether a temporary extension was under consideration, and Senate President Karen Spilka’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment, though Mariano recently told the News Service, “That’s something that can wait ’til well into next year before it has any impact.”

“So we’ll find a vehicle. And we’ve already voted on it, people know where they are on this, so now it’s a question logistically how to get it into the Senate,” Mariano said.

The House has gone on record in support of expanding early voting and permanently authorizing no-excuse voting by mail, but the House rejected a same-day voter registration amendment last year as part of a broader COVID-19 relief bill.

Before the 16-139 vote, Lawn argued that the timing was not right to consider same-day registration when the Legislature was hoping to reduce lines at the polls and administrative burdens on shorthanded clerks’ offices.

Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, said Wednesday same-day registration would be the “most impactful” policy the state could adopt to improve equity in elections.

Jen Benson, the president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, said the business community is also in support because greater civic engagement helps employers recruit workers to Massachusetts and “creates a healthier environment for these workers.”

It’s also popular with the public, according to advocates.

In addition to the more than 80 House lawmakers who have co-sponsored the bill, a recent UMass Amherst poll found that 65 percent of Massachusetts residents either strongly or somewhat support the idea, compared with 28 percent in opposition.

Jesse Rhodes, a political science professor and associate director of the UMass Amherst poll, said research has shown same-day registration to be an effective tool in increasing voter turnout and participation by younger voters and voters in marginalized communities.

Rhodes said at least 20 states and the District of Columbia already use same-day registration, including Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“Same-day registration is a reform that tends to increase both the level and diversity of voter turnout in elections, and the idea is popular in the state,” Rhodes said.

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October 2021 Scharfman Grants Awarded to Two Local Leagues

Two local Leagues received Lotte E. Scharfman Citizen Education grants in October 2021:

LWV Brookline: LWV Brookline was awarded a grant for a civics education program that will launch in January 2022. The program will involve learning about Brookline’s town government and using strategic discussions to help bring people together. The program aims to encourage civil communication in the hopes to increase participation in local elections and  government engagement. 

LWV Norwood: LWV Norwood was awarded a grant to mail residents a personal postcard educating them on registration eligibility requirements and how they can register to vote. 

Drawing Democracy Celebrates Creation of Six Majority-Minority Senate Districts

Map approved by Senate today includes changes to strengthen representation for BIPOC voters in Brockton

BOSTON – The Drawing Democracy Coalition is celebrating the creation of six majority-minority Senate districts, including two that are new, following Senate passage of the map proposed by Redistricting Committee Co-Chair Senator William Brownsberger. In response to advocacy from Drawing Democracy and its partners, the first draft of the Senate map was revised to create an additional majority-minority district based on total population and Voting Age Population by combining Brockton with Randolph and Avon. The final Senate map also creates a strong majority-Latinx district in Lawrence by separating it from Andover and combining it instead with Methuen, which remedied a long-existing Voting Rights Act violation.

“This is the power of a fair and transparent redistricting process – community members, advocates and local officials made their voices heard and demanded more equitable representation for BIPOC, immigrant and low-income communities in Massachusetts, and the Redistricting Committee listened,” said Beth Huang, convener of the Drawing Democracy Coalition and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table. “As a result, BIPOC voters across the commonwealth, and particularly in Brockton and Lawrence, will have greater opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. We’re grateful to Senator William Brownsberger for listening to our concerns and recommendations and taking action that will have long-term, positive impacts for the future of our communities, our commonwealth and our democracy. We urge the House to now approve the Senate map and Governor Baker to sign both the House and Senate maps into law.”

The Senate also voted on Wednesday in favor of the House map, which creates 33 majority-minority districts. The legislature is expected to release their draft Congressional map soon. Earlier this month, Drawing Democracy released a Congressional Unity Map that called for uniting the immigrant communities of Fall River and New Bedford in the Ninth Congressional District.

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League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and League of Women Voters of Boston Statement on Boston City Council Election

Oct. 27, 2021

BOSTON — Today, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Foster-Nolan and League of Women Voters of Boston President Kerry Costello released the following statement relating to the Boston City Council election:

“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and the League of Women Voters of Boston (collectively, “The League”) wish to set the record straight with regard to our nonpartisan policy, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy and our Racial Justice Resolution in light of statements emerging from the Boston City Council election.  For more than 100 years, the League has operated as a nonpartisan organization and never endorses or opposes candidates for publicly elected office.  The League is committed to providing trusted information to voters in this nonpartisan manner, and any inference to the contrary by a campaign or candidate is simply not accurate.

Additionally, the League rejects racist tactics employed by any candidate to attack an opponent based on their voting record or race.  A key legislative priority of the League is to remove systemic barriers to voting, and that is why we are working to pass the VOTES Act in the Massachusetts legislature, which will empower individual voters and increase access to the ballot for all throughout the Commonwealth.  Moreover, the League advocates against structural and systemic racism and we are committed to working at the local, state and national level to eradicate these injustices and the enormous harm they have caused.”

To read the League’s nonpartisan policy, click here.

To read the League’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion policy, click here.

To read the League’s Racial Justice Resolution, click here.