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 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 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.”
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. Therefore, a new way will have to be paved for bringing EDR to Massachusetts, and Common Cause Massachusetts will continue to seek opportunities to advance this reform.
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. EDR could make our elections more inclusive and bring them into the 21st century.