When the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last week, it dealt a devastating blow to fair elections. A major step in the wrong direction, the decision threatens to unjustly disenfranchise our fellow voters across the country.
Thankfully, here in Massachusetts we have a special opportunity to move in the opposite direction and expand voting rights with election modernization measures that will make our elections more free, fair, and accessible. Pre-registration for 16 year olds will help spark greater voter participation among young voters, a historically unengaged demographic. Online voter registration can increase voter engagement across the board and reduce registration processing errors that disenfranchise voters on Election Day. Early voting will better ensure equal access to the polls by providing more days to vote. Post-election audits of election equipment will increase accuracy of and confidence in election results.
On Wednesday, July 17th, Common Cause MassVOTE, ACLU, ProgressiveMass, MASSPIRG, the League of Women Voters, the MIRA Coalition and other allies will hold a Lobby Day at the State House to advocate for these important election modernization measures. From 10:30-12:30, key legislative champions will talk about their work to bring modern elections to Massachusetts. Participants will then advocate for reform with their own legislators.
This is a very real opportunity to spark much needed change. Last year, a bill including pre-registration and post-election audits passed the House, but was not taken up for vote in the Senate. The long lines and countless voter registration complications during last November's election revived legislative resolve to fix our outdated voting system.
Now a bit about the reforms themselves. Pre-registration allows eligible voters to register to vote as early as 16, enabling them to register at the RMV when they get their drivers' licenses. By combining registering to vote with registering to drive, Massachusetts will see a raise in voting rates for 18-24 year-olds. This reform has already been adopted by eight states, which have seen increased voter participation among young people. It would not affect the voting age, but simply ensure that more 18 year-olds are registered to vote by their first election. And as we have seen, voting is a pattern. 18-year-old voters are more likely to be older voters as well.
Another reform that would increase participation is online voter registration. As the name suggests, this would allow voters to register online through a secure system. The major benefits to this are fourfold. Most importantly, it would make registration easier and quicker" in fact, it has resulted in an increase in voter registration in all 14 states where it has been enacted. Second, it would reduce the possibility of clerical errors, since information would be inputted by the registrant himself and cross-referenced with RMV data. Additionally, paperless registration would greatly decrease the burden on local officials, who currently have to process thousands of forms and are especially overburdened as elections approach. Finally, online registration would save money, and has already saved some states hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The battle doesn't end with voter registration. Sometimes, registered voters cannot get to the polls. They may be out of town for the day, unable to leave work, too busy, or sick. Should they be denied the right to vote? Early voting would allow voters to cast their vote up to a week before the election, enabling people to vote who otherwise could not make it to the polls. 32 states already utilize early voting" it's time for Massachusetts to join them.
Not only will the reforms that we'll discuss on Lobby Day make the voting process more accessible, but also more accurate and secure. We will call for post election audits, whereby election officials will perform examinations of electronic voting equipment at the end of elections to ensure that everything is running smoothly. This will help us avoid the ballot-counting issues of the past decade. Since electronic equipment is prone to programming errors, and since poor ballot design can sometimes cause confusion and inaccurate readings, we must ensure that any issues that might compromise the accuracy of election results can be discovered and dealt with.
Let's push back on the Supreme Court by making our elections more free, fair, and accessible at just the moment when it's doing the opposite. Together we can bring Massachusetts elections into the 21st century.