Conference Committee Approves Comprehensive Election Modernization

Conference Committee Approves Comprehensive Election Modernization

The Election Modernization Coalition today applauds a conference committee for approving comprehensive election modernization legislation. The bill includes online voter registration, early voting, pre-registration for 16 year-olds, post-election audits of voting machines, and inactive voting reform.

“We are thrilled,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “We have been fighting for many of these reforms for a decade or more. This legislation encourages voter participation and makes Massachusetts’ election laws more efficient and effective and is long overdue.”

“At a time when voting rights are under attack across the country, it’s great to see the legislature take a stand to expand access to voting,” said Sara Brady, MassVOTE Policy Director. “This victory will engage many more people in the most important activity of a democracy — voting.”

If enacted and signed by the Governor, Massachusetts would join 23 other states in passing online voter registration and 32 other states that offer early voting.

“We’ve been behind the curve, but this marks a significant move toward Massachusetts becoming a voting rights leader. The legislature should be proud to expand ballot access in the birthplace of American democracy,” added Gavi Wolfe of the Massachusetts ACLU.

“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts is pleased that the Conference committee has approved this significant update to the state’s election laws. Many of the provisions make it easier to register to vote and easier to cast a ballot. In this increasingly complicated world, these are critical goals,” said Anne Borg, LWVMA co-president.

“This is a significant step in the right direction,” said Ben Wright, Executive Director of Progressive Massachusetts. “While we were disappointed that Election Day registration was not included in the final bill, we recognize the substantial improvement in the voting experience the conference committee report will bring.”

“The right to vote is a strong motivator for new Americans to undertake the long and difficult process of naturalization, and these reforms help protect that right in a number of ways that will enhance citizen voters’ engagement,” said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

The Coalition pledged to continue working for additional reforms such as Election Day registration, portable or permanent voter registration, weekend and evening hours for early voting, and more frequent election audits in future legislative sessions and as part of the elections task force established by this legislation.

The Election Modernization Coalition comprises 45 advocacy groups and led by (in alphabetical order) ACLU Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, the MA Voter Table, the MIRA Coalition, and Progressive Massachusetts.

Background on bill provisions:

Online voter registration.

Online voter registration will reduce processing time, cut costs, decrease errors, and encourage more people to register. After Arizona implemented online voter registration, registration rates rose by 9.5% and costs decreased from 83 for pro_cessing a paper registration to 3 for online applications. The online system would search the Registry of Motor Vehicles database for the applicant’s driver’s license and other identifying information and match it to the electronic form. Newly registered voters would be required to show proof of residence the first time they vote. Online voter registration has been passed in 23 states.

Early voting

Early voting would allow Massachusetts residents to vote in person up eleven days before Election Day, at city or town hall or at a satellite site. Early voting relieves congestion on Election Day, especially during typical peak times before and after normal work hours, and allows voters the flexibility to fit voting into busy schedules, particularly voters with lengthy commutes or non-traditional work schedules. Early voting is available in 32 states.

Post- election audits

Post-election audits ensure that vote counts are accurate and that voting machines are working properly. Twenty-six other states perform post-election audits and California has conducted audits for more than 30 years. In 2012, a post-election audit discovered a programming error which caused the results in several municipal elections in Florida to flip. This reform is a common-sense business practice that will instill greater voter confidence in the integrity of our elections and can uncover important information about voting machine malfunctions and other voting inaccuracies.

Pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Pre-registration will increase voter participation among young voters, a demographic bloc with historically low voter participation. Based on the experience of other states, pre-registration would result in approximately 21,000 additional voter registrations per year, and increase voter turnout of 18 and 19-year-olds by 5 to 10%. Studies also show this increase in participation continues into adulthood. The program is easy to administer and has almost no cost. Pre-registration has been enacted in Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, and West Virgina.

Reform of inactive voting procedures.

Massachusetts is the only state that makes a voter “inactive” after a one-time failure to return a city or town census form, regardless of how often the voter goes to the polls. Inactive voting procedures are confusing, slow down voting on Election Day, and can wrongly disenfranchise voters.