(Read a recap of the hearing held by the Jont Committee on Election Laws on S.327, an omnibus election modernization package including online voter registration, pre-registration, post-election audits, and more, click here.)
When the Joint Committee on Election Laws held its first hearing of the 188th General Court yesterday afternoon the testimony was clear and undivided. Massachusetts must update its voting process to ensure accessible voting for all. The three hour long poll lines and lack of voting options are not simply inconveniences; they are obstacles that wrongly deny eligible voters the franchise.
The Committee hearing covered over a dozen bills on the subject of early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. To the surprise of many in the hearing room, Massachusetts is one of only 15 states that do not have either early voting or no-excuse absentee.
Both of these modernization measures would go a long way in eliminating unnecessary barriers to voting by offering voters ample time and opportunities to vote in person and by mail and by relieving congestion on Election Day. Secretary of State Galvin summed up his vigorous support for these reforms well saying, "we want to give voters their maximum potential to participate"_ [This] is an issue that people from both parties and all persuasions can agree on." Representative Michlewitz, Straus, and others echoed Secretary Galvin's sentiments in their own testimonies.
The time to act on these important reforms is now. Unfortunately, no excuse absentee voting will require a state constitutional amendment, which takes four years to complete. The process for amending the Constitution requires that two consecutive Legislatures, which convene every two years, approve of the amendment before the question is placed on the ballot for voters to decide. The Legislature voted to support no-excuse absentee voting during the 2006 Constitutional Convention, but for unrelated reasons did not take it up again the following session.
On the bright side, Senate President Therese Murray has identified expanding access to voting as a top priority this session. She is the lead sponsor of S.12, an amendment that would allow for both early voting and no-excuse absentee. Moreover, Senator Barry Finegold, the Senate Chairman of Election Laws, is championing his own bill S.327, an election reform package that includes online voter registration, pre-registration, and post-election audits. A bill with many of these provisions passed the House last session. Substantial, much needed change in election administration has the best chance of passage this session than in decades.
Nevertheless, the successful passage of these reforms hinges on the relentless communication of support from the public. Next Wednesday April 3 at 2PM the Committee will reconvene to hear testimony on S.327. Let's pack the house with supporters and show the Committee we are serious about immediate reform, RSVP here. If you're unable to attend the hearing, be sure to write your legislators urging them to support these reforms and more.
These reforms are tried and tested in states throughout the country, it's time for Massachusetts to take a proactive step towards ensuring free, fair, and accessible elections and follow suit.