(Read a recap of the hearing held by the Jont Committee on Election Laws on early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, click here.)
After a successful hearing on early voting and no-excuse absentee voting two weeks ago, the Joint Committee on Election Laws reconvened last Wednesday for its second hearing of the legislative session. It heard testimony on Senate Bill 327, an omnibus election modernization package sponsored by Senate Chairman Barry Finegold that includes online voter registration, pre-registration, post-election audits, and more.
The room was packed with supporters. Advocates from Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, MassVOTE, MASSPRIG, Progressive Massachusetts, Rosie's Place, the list goes on, all agreed that S.327 is common sense legislation that will make election administration more efficient and cheaper, voting easier, and election results more accurate.
Opponents were sparse. The Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association took their familiar stance against these modernization measures which they perceive will increase time and financial burdens on municipal government, regardless of the veracity of those claims. Last year, the Association aggressively opposed a more modest election modernization package. Surprisingly, Secretary Galvin's office testified against early voting. Galvin personally testified in favor of early voting during the first Election Laws hearing, and he is in fact a cosponsor of H.636, a bill allowing for both early voting and no-excuse absentee.
The Secretary's office also opposed online voter registration (while supporting the concept), claiming that it is not technologically feasible at the moment. Yet, twelve states have already successfully implemented online voter registration. Washington did so in 2007. Four other states have recently passed the measure, but have yet to implement. The experience of these states indicates that online voter registration is not only technologically possible, but also a highly effective tool for decreasing administration costs and errors and increasing registration rates, particularly among young voters.
Moreover, Adam Friedman, a software developer and long time local voting rights advocate, testifying in support noted that online voter registration is absolutely feasible here in Massachusetts. According to Friedman, the state of Maryland which passed online voter registration in 2011 is even willing to share its software code with Massachusetts free of charge.
The roadblock to reform presented by the clerks and the Secretary is formidable, but we can surpass it. The legislature needs to know that these are not just issues supported by the public, but prioritized by the public. We must continue to call our Senators and Representatives and write them relentlessly. For too long we have allowed a small group of opponents stall reforms to make our democracy stronger. Not anymore.
Office: California Common Cause