In American democracy, our vote is our voice—voting is the best way to hold our representatives in government accountable and make ourselves heard.
In order to make sure our electoral systems are as fair, accessible, and efficient as possible, we need to make commonsense updates to modernize them. One of these practical updates is Election Day Registration (EDR).
Currently, to cast a ballot in Massachusetts, citizens must register to vote at least 20 days before an election. This arbitrary restriction keeps thousands of otherwise qualified Bay State residents from participating in our democracy. Plus, it forces voters with errors – typos or out of date addresses, for example – in their registration to cast provisional ballots. These create additional work for elections officials and often, they go uncounted.
In 2017, 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.”
Suffolk Superior Court Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins
Judge Douglas 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.
However, the Suffolk Superior Court’s decision was appealed by the Secretary of State, and though we filed an amicus brief in the case, the verdict was overturned.
Now, Common Cause Massachusetts is working to pass three bills introduced by Senator Cindy Creem, Representative Jennifer Benson, and Representative Elizabeth Malia that would bring EDR to Massachusetts.
Election Day Registration is already in place in 21 other states and Washington, D.C., and has been working well for over 40 years in states like Maine and Minnesota. In these states, it has shown to improve voter participation by up to 7 points. EDR is a failsafe reform that ensures all eligible voters who want to participate are counted, and will bring our elections into the 21st century.