Voting Rights Advocates Applaud Emergency Election Legislation; Call for Additional Actions

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 24, 2020

Contact: Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
(617) 962 0034 | pwilmot@commoncause.org
Kristina Mensik, Assistant Director, Common Cause Massachusetts
(312) 608-1709

Voting Rights Advocates Applaud Emergency Election Legislation; Call for Additional Actions

Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Progressive Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Voter Table today praised emergency legislation allowing municipalities to delay their spring elections until June, and expanding absentee and early voting by mail, among other reforms.

The bill, S. 2608, was passed yesterday and is expected to be signed by Governor Charles Baker imminently.

“Yesterday’s bill is a strong first step. However, there is no guarantee that the coronavirus crisis will have receded by September 1, when Massachusetts state primaries are scheduled, or even for the November elections,” the groups said. “The Election Modernization Coalition urges the Legislature to recognize that this crisis is of indeterminate length, and that we must also act quickly to ensure that the fall’s elections take place as scheduled, maximize participation, and maintain public health. To that end, the Legislature must protect the ability of all eligible voters to cast ballots from home in all elections, and ensure that in-person voting is as safe and participatory as possible.”

The full statement is below.

Voting Rights Advocates Applaud Emergency Election Legislation

The unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus has required Massachusetts officials to respond to many urgent issues surrounding public health, the economy, and more. Yesterday, the Legislature stepped up to the plate to address one of these core issues: protecting the integrity of Massachusetts’ spring elections in this time of a global pandemic.

On Monday, the Legislature passed and today Governor Baker is expected to sign into law an emergency bill that will allow more voters to participate in our elections from the safety of their own home by expanding absentee and early voting by mail in the Commonwealth. The bill also allows cities and towns to postpone spring elections, some of which would have begun next week, until June. Related legislation postpones four state legislative special elections until May and June.

This delay is critical to enable all eligible voters to participate in our democratic process.  It will allow election officials to prepare for a surge in mail ballots.

We also applaud the legislature’s reduction of the voter registration black-out window. Massachusetts law currently requires voters to register or update their registration 20 days in advance of an election, after which eligible voters are unable to register or adjust their registration. The bill cuts that deadline down to 10 days for elections this spring.

Yesterday’s bill is a strong first step. However, there is no guarantee that the coronavirus crisis will have ended by September 1, when Massachusetts state primaries are scheduled, or even by the November elections. The Election Modernization Coalition urges the Legislature to recognize that this crisis is of indeterminate length, and make preparations for the fall elections well in advance. In order to ensure that the fall elections take place as scheduled while maintaining public health and public participation, the legislature should act to expand absentee balloting rules to allow all eligible voters to cast ballots from home, and ensure that in-person voting is as safe and participatory as possible. Expanded absentee voting should include sending ballots to all voters, re-paid postage for responses, and counting ballots postmarked on Election Day. Necessary in-person voting reforms include expanding in-person early voting windows and implementing procedures that create social distancing such as drive-in voting.

The Legislature should also build on the precedent that was set by yesterday’s legislation and  reduce the voter registration cutoff for all elections, not just for this spring’s. Election Day voter registration, already law and working well in 21 states, is the gold-standard reform and should be adopted here in Massachusetts.

Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
Rahsaan Hall, ACLU of Massachusetts
Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG,
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, MassVOTE
Beth Huang, Massachusetts Voter Table
Jonathan Cohn, Progressive Massachusetts
Patricia Comfort, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts

Additional Contacts:

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director, MassVOTE
(617) 542-8683 x211

Patricia Comfort, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts
(857) 452-1712

Janet Domenitz, Executive Director, MASSPIRG
(617)308-9109

Beth Huang, Executive Director, Mass Voter Table
(414) 378-5889

Rahsaan Hall, Legislative Director, ACLU of Massachusetts,
(617) 482 -3170 x 394 (c) (781) 910-5215

 

###

 

The Election Modernization Coalition is comprised of the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, and Progressive Massachusetts.

Elections Advocates Call for Protecting Public Health and the Integrity of Elections in Massachusetts

Contact: Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
(617) 962 0034 | pwilmot@commoncause.org
Kristina Mensik, Assistant Director, Common Cause Massachusetts
(312) 608-1709 

Elections Advocates Call for Protecting Public Health and the Integrity of Elections in Massachusetts

The outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 poses immediate and severe threats to not only public health, but also to the integrity of elections and democratic institutions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Election Modernization Coalition urges officials in Massachusetts to act quickly to adopt reforms that will protect the right to vote in the midst of a crisis of indeterminate duration where public health officials recommend that people remain in their homes as much as possible, practice social distancing, and limit gatherings to less than 10 people.

For both the integrity of our elections and to protect public health, it is imperative that all eligible voters be able to cast ballots from the safety of their own home. Massachusetts’ current absentee voting program limits that ability. Expanding absentee voting will require changes in the current procedure and law, as well as additional funding, some of which may come from the federal government.

In addition, for those that prefer to vote in person, the Commonwealth needs to implement voting options that create social distancing, such as longer early voting timeframes and procedures that limit contact between voters and poll workers, many of whom have traditionally been elderly and at-risk for infection. The Commonwealth should also consider drive-in voting.

The coronavirus may also affect residents’ ability to keep their voter registrations up-to-date. Therefore, we renew our call for Election Day Registration, so that no eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot is denied that right. The reform has already been adopted in 21 other states and acts as a failsafe when other registration systems are unavailable or not working optimally.

The coalition is preparing a COVID-19 response legislative package that will be released next week.

Additional Contacts:
Gavi Wolf, Legislative Director, ACLU of Massachusetts,
(617) 482 -3170 x340 (c) (617) 694-9177
Janet Domenitz, Executive Director, MASSPIRG
(617) 292-4800
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director, MassVOTE
(617) 542-8683 x211
Beth Huang, Executive Director, Mass Voter Table
(414) 378-5889
Jonathan Cohn, Chair of Issues Committee, Progressive Massachusetts
(215) 630-2633
Patricia Comfort, Executive Director, League of Women Voters
(857) 452-1712

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The Election Modernization Coalition is comprised of the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, and Progressive Massachusetts.

League of Women Voters Calls for Suspension of Absentee Ballot Restrictions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Patricia Comfort
857-452-1715

BOSTON – The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has asked Secretary of State William Galvin to suspend the restrictions on absentee ballot voting in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Read their letter here.

The League noted that most of Massachusetts’ 351 towns will hold local elections for town offices and school committees this spring and that fear of the coronavirus might keep people from voting.

The League urged Galvin “to take steps to suspend the requirements for obtaining an absentee ballot for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak so that anyone who wishes to vote by absentee ballot in local elections this spring, and in later elections if necessary, can do so.”

“We are concerned that people, particularly in high-risk demographic groups, will decide not to vote in this spring’s local elections out of fear of being in high-traffic areas. Local elections are important, and we want everyone to vote in them,” said Mary Ann Ashton, co-president of the state League.

“While we realize that the restrictions on who can vote by absentee ballot are part of the Massachusetts Constitution, we urge the Secretary of State to take all possible steps to lift those restrictions for the duration of this unprecedented public health situation,” said Judy Zaunbrecher, co-president of the League.

The League also pointed out in its letter that allowing unrestricted absentee voting might make the polling places safer for election workers and other voters by providing alternative access to the ballot for people with colds or other symptoms.

ABOUT THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF MASSACHUSETTS:

Since its founding in 1920, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has been a respected and trusted voice for citizen participation in our democracy. With 47 local Leagues throughout the state and over 3,000 members, LWVMA has been at the forefront of efforts to empower and educate Massachusetts voters and effect change on a wide variety of issues, including election laws and campaign finance, natural resources and the environment, women’s health, children’s issues, and public education. Membership in the League is open to everyone of all ages. For more information about the League of Women Voters, please visit www.lwvma.org.
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Celebrate LWVMA’s 100th Birthday on May 31st

Join us for brunch in the Tiffany ballroom at the Sheraton Four Points hotel in Norwood on Sunday, May 31st.  The festivities begin at 1:00 p.m. with a reception followed by brunch and an exciting program featuring Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard.  Professor Allen is  widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America.  Everyone is invited! To read more about Professor Allen and to buy your tickets, please click here.

League of Women Voters Marks 100th Anniversary of Founding

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the voters’ rights organization Thursday, Feb. 6, at the State House.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo; Sen. Joan Lovely, assistant majority leader; and Rep. Patricia Haddad, speaker pro tempore, saluted the League, whose national organization began in February 1920, six months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution establishing women’s right to vote. The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts was started three months later, in May 1920.

The Massachusetts League is asking the legislature to honor these centennials by passing Election Day registration, a voting reform already in place in 21 states.

“In these challenging political times, organizations like the League of Women Voters are crucial to maintaining democracy and keeping elections fair,” said DeLeo. He cited the work the legislature has done passing a pay equity bill, the pregnant workers fairness act, and an $8 million funding bill for women’s reproductive health organizations to offset federal cuts.

Legislation last fall, he added, will create a women’s rights history trail.

Sen. Lovely noted the gains women have made, but pointed out that only 197 women have served in the Massachusetts legislature in its history, compared to 20,000 men.

“The League of Women Voters continues to help us make significant strides toward equality,” she said.

Rep. Haddad honored the League with a joint resolution from the House and Senate, recalling League members in her childhood “were the first time I realized women could organize and get things done.”

Acknowledging Speaker DeLeo’s comment that the current House has more women in leadership than ever before, Rep. Haddad added, “it’s still a small number compared to the men.”

She challenged her audience with the question, “Are we still working as hard as the women who won the vote did 100 years ago?”

The State House celebration was part of the League’s nationwide day of action, “Women Power the Vote.”

“The League was founded by suffrage leaders 100 years ago to help American women exercise their new right to vote,” said Mary Ann Ashton, co-president of the Massachusetts League. “We’re celebrating by joining Leagues across the country in demonstrating the power of women to achieve a more perfect democracy.”

“We’re honoring our history by taking action for the future,” said Judy Zaunbrecher, co-president of the Massachusetts League. “Our founders achieved the impossible by getting the 19th Amendment passed. We continue their fight by working to improve voter access, including Election Day registration in this session of the legislature, and advocating for such reforms as automatic voter registration, early voting, and online registration in the recent past.”

“For 100 years, Leagues have registered voters, informed their communities on the issues, advocated in their legislatures, and helped shape their communities and this country,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “It is fitting that we celebrate this milestone with a coordinated day of the kind of grassroots activism our members and supporters have embraced for an entire century.”

The Massachusetts League represents 47 local Leagues across the state, from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, with about 3,500 members.

January 2020 Scharfman Grants Awarded to Seven Local Leagues

Seven local Leagues received Lotte E. Scharfman Citizen Education grants in January 2020:

LWV Arlington: LWV Arlington (LWVA) co-sponsors an annual Candidates’ Night with a Town of Arlington Committee called Envision Arlington. LWVA is responsible for contacting and inviting candidates to attend the event where they present their ideas and respond to questions from attendees. The event, held in Arlington Town Hall, covers local positions such as Select Board, School Committee, Housing Authority, Town Clerk, etc. LWVA prepares the Voter’s Guide for Candidates’ Night, a printed pamphlet that contains a picture, brief biography and response to questions posed by LWVA for each candidate. LWVA is responsible for the cost of printing about 200 copies of the Voter’s Guide, which is available as a handout at Candidates’ Night, and is also distributed to town libraries. LWVA also pays for the cost of sending a postcard to all Town Meeting candidates inviting them to Candidates’ Night, and for printing tent-style name tags placed on tables in front of candidates at the event.

LWV Concord-Carlisle:  The LWV Concord-Carlisle will print and distribute “Yellow Rose Bookmarks.” Yellow Rose Bookmarks are a collectable series of bookmarks with the face, words and short bio of women in the US who have made a difference. The first series of Yellow Rose bookmarks were funded by a Scharfman Grant and highlighted four early era influential women from Massachusetts who promoted woman suffrage; Abigail Adams, Lucretia Mott, Abigail Alcott and Lucy Stone. The proposed second series commemorates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters and consists of four women who were prominent in the fight for a woman’s right to vote; Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as Maud Wood Park and Carrie Chapman Catt, both of whom were also influential in starting the League in 1920. A proposed third series of bookmarks commemorate women of color who fought for woman suffrage in the face of racism and bigotry in the US at large but also within the woman suffrage movement; Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells. A proposed fourth series commemorates four young suffragists who pushed the suffrage movement beyond the comfort zone of its revered leaders into a new era; Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Inez Milholland, and Chrystal Eastman. A proposed fifth series of bookmarks commemorate men who helped make woman suffrage possible through their words and actions; Frederick Douglass, Henry Blackwell, W.E.B. du Bois, Harry T. Burns.

LWV Franklin County:  LWV Franklin County hosted a “Legislative Coffee” with state legislators Representative Natalie Blais, Senator Jo Comerford, and Representative Paul Mark on Saturday, November 16, from 10:00am to 12:00pm. Senator Adam Hinds was also scheduled to attend, but had to cancel at the last minute. The event was held at Element Brewing Company on 16 Bridge Street in Millers Falls. Our event was meant to give constituents the opportunity to share their concerns and stay informed on the issues by providing them direct access to their state lawmakers. Judging by our excellent turnout and enthusiastic feedback from the attendees, that goal was met. This event was handicapped accessible, free and open to the public, with complimentary refreshments provided by League members.

LWV Hamilton Wenham:  Celebrating its fifth year in 2020, the LWVHW Civics Bee is a community-wide, collaborative and friendly trivia competition based on civics-related topics. This year’s event will have a special focus on voting rights to honor the milestone 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and to acknowledge and educate on the work that remains in order to expand and protect access to the ballot. Teams of four (requiring at least one student and one adult to foster cross-generational community) answer questions on founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, institutions, Supreme Court decisions, and local, state, and federal government. Competition is divided into rounds and prizes are awarded. Spectators and students who are not playing on teams can participate with a hard-copy of the quiz and have a chance at trivia prizes. 8th graders through senior citizens participate in the event.

LWV Waltham: The League of Women Voters of Waltham is launching a series of programs entitled “Know Your City” in 2020. The inspiration for this is a brochure published by the LWV Waltham in 2003 entitled “The Inside Workings of Waltham or What Makes the Watch City Tick.” The objective of the program is to engage the residents of the city with public programs highlighting various parts of the City Governmental Organization. Waltham has a number of departments and Boards and Committees whose decisions affect the daily lives of its residents. The goal is to provide insight into their functions and their impact on the city, as well as to empower the residents to interact with city officials. The first program is a public reception for elected officials before the first City Council meeting of the year on Monday, January 13th, 2020. The Scharfman Grant will provide monies for promotion, marketing and advertising, especially on social media. LWV Waltham will also create an exhibit at the Waltham Public Library for the month of September, which will highlight the“Know Your City” programs as well as the League’s Centennial. Part of the funds will be used for professional signage for the display.

LWV Northampton: The LWV Northampton will host a public event at the Florence Civic Center on May 3, 2020 featuring a talk by Dr. Susan Ware. Dr. Susan Ware is a women’s history scholar, teacher and author of many books, including the recent “Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote” (Harvard University). The celebrated feminist historian will give a talk on the women who worked tirelessly in communities across the nation, out of the spotlight, protesting, petitioning and insisting on their right to full citizenship. Dr. Ware will also respond to questions from the audience. Refreshments will be served. Dr. Susan Ware’s appearance will be widely publicized in local media, including newspapers and radio, at the many colleges and universities in the area, by posters and notifications in shop windows and on various community bulletin boards.

LWV Worcester Area: The League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area (LWVWA) will hold monthly educational forums addressing a variety of topics relevant to civic engagement. Programs will be held at the First Baptist Church, 111 Park Avenue, Worcester, MA, 01609, from 5:30pm to 7pm and will be open to the public, free of charge. Programs are held on the last Wednesday of the month.

Women Power The Vote: Nationwide Day of Action Celebrating 100th Anniversary of The League of Women Voters

Please join us on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at 10:00 AM at the State House in Room 428 for a 100th anniversary celebration of the League of Women Voters. Following a speaking program with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, we will act to support Election Day Registration in MA. Cake and coffee will be served. Let’s demonstrate the power of women to achieve a more perfect democracy. Email tgrenga@lwvma.org to RSVP.

LWVMA Co-President Judy Zaunbrecher Presents the People Powered Fair Maps Campaign

On November 21, LWVMA Co-President Judith Zaunbrecher gave a presentation on the League of Women Voters People Powered Fair Maps redistricting program.

Watch Judy’s full presentation below:

Patricia Comfort Joins LWVMA as Executive Director

Our new Executive Director, Patricia Comfort, has joined us this week.  Pattye has spent her career working in the public interest, most recently serving as Executive Director of the Women’s Bar Association and Women’s Bar Foundation of Massachusetts.  She joins LWVMA with extensive experience managing a nonprofit, collaborating with members and Board, and in education and advocacy.

Along with interest in a broad range of membership and advocacy issues, Pattye brings insight and expertise in women’s issues.  She has worked throughout her career to empower underserved constituencies.  In addition to her most recent position with the Women’s Bar, she has worked with the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and with The Fund for the Public Interest.  Pattye holds a B.A. in political science from Boston College and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law.

Members of the LWVMA Board look forward to introducing Pattye to our members, our local Leagues, and to our many partners in the community over the next few months. See our press release here.

Successful 2019 League Leader Lunch

Over 70 registrants, representing 33 local Leagues, attended the 2019 League Leader Lunch at the First Baptist Church in Worcester on Saturday, Oct. 26th. Attendees heard about the “state of the LWVMA” and the LWVUS People Powered Fair Maps campaign from co-presidents Mary Ann Ashton and Judy Zaunbrecher; panel discussions on civic engagement opportunities for local Leagues and local League interest action groups; a presentation and group discussion on the LWVMA’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policy; and a presentation about our 100th anniversary celebration and toolkit resources.

Presentations