Testimony in Support of S. 52
No-Excuse Absentee Ballots
Pamela H. Wilmot, Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts
Joint Committee on Election Laws
April 28, 2015
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Political commentators have widely decried the decline in voter turnout in elections. It is a national trend that is eating away at the most basic element of our democracy: citizen participation in truly competitive elections. While there are many reasons for this trend—and to make a significant impact on it, we must proceed on many fronts—this bill addresses a particularly unnecessary impediment to voting: restrictions on absentee ballots
Massachusetts is one of 20 states that restrict voters’ access to the absentee voting process. This bill would put us in line with the remaining 27 states that place no restrictions whatsoever on absentee balloting. The three remaining states, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado now conduct their elections entirely by mail. (See attached fact sheet)
Absentee voting is currently restricted to voters who:
- will be absent from their city or town on Election Day, or
- are disabled and unable to get to the polls, or
- Have religious beliefs that prevent them from going to the polls.
These restrictions, however, leave out many legitimate reasons for being unable to vote on election day, such as being a poll worker at a different precinct in the same town or city, having a particularly overwhelming work schedule that day, or having to care for a sick relative. Even if the reason is less significant, there is no harm in voting absentee and much to be gained through more robust political participation.
Early voting is one solution to these issues. We applaud the legislature for passing it last year. But having the option to request a mailed ballot without the limitations, as an additional option to in person early voting, is especially convenient for some voters. Most states offer both options to their citizens and we in Massachusetts should too.
The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and voting should be as easy and accessible as possible. Unfortunately, the conditions for absentee balloting are set by our state Constitution and hence must be removed by an amendment. The General Court passed such an amendment in 2006, but the Constitutional Convention was adjourned in the next session before the matter could be considered. We hope that you will give the bill a favorable report.