In American democracy, our vote is our voice—voting is the best way to communicate with our representatives in government and make ourselves heard. In order to make sure our electoral systems are as fair, accessible, and efficient as possible, we need to make common-sense updates to modernize them. One of these practical updates is Election Day Registration.
Currently, to cast a ballot in Massachusetts, citizens must register to vote at least 20 days before an election. This arbitrary restriction can be a deterrent that keeps thousands of otherwise qualified Bay State residents from participating in our democracy.
Last year, ACLU Massachusetts, Chelsea Collaborative, and MassVOTE brought this issue to court, claiming that the law erects an unnecessary barrier for potential voters. On July 24, 2017 these groups received some promising news: the Suffolk Superior Court found the restriction unconstitutional.
"The Legislature may pass laws that are necessary to ensure voters' qualifications of voters or to ensure election security and order. The evidence overwhelmingly shows no such necessity for the Massachusetts registration cutoff. Therefore, disenfranchising a qualified citizen because he or she did not register at least 20 days before the election exceeds the bounds of Legislature's authority and violates the Massachusetts Constitution," said Suffolk Superior Court Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins.
Judge Wilkins cited Early Voting, a reform that Common Cause Massachusetts worked hard to bring to Massachusetts, as a reason to question the Voter Cutoff Law’s merit. As the ACLU rightly indicated: “Under the early voting law, anyone who registered to vote on October 19, 2016, was permitted to cast a ballot five days later when early voting began on October 24. Yet, under the Voter Cutoff Law, anyone who registered to vote on October 20 [was not] permitted to cast a ballot 19 days later on Election Day.” These inconsistencies showed that the Voter Cutoff Law was disenfranchising voters to create time that town clerks offices ultimately did not need.
The Suffolk Superior Court’s decision is being appealed, and Common Cause Massachusetts has filed an amicus brief in the case supporting expanded voting rights. But should the verdict be upheld, a new way will be paved for bringing Election Day Registration to Massachusetts. Election Day Registration is already in place in 15 other states and Washington, D.C., and has shown to improve turnout by up to 7 points.
Election Day Registration could make our elections more inclusive and bring them into the 21st century.