Experts, advocates, and community organizers testify in support of the VOTES Act to improve Massachusetts elections.
BOSTON — “An Act Fostering Voter Opportunities Trust, Equity, and Security,” better known as the VOTES Act, received widespread support from advocates and lawmakers during a hearing today. The bill, which was lauded by a range of supporters as being a comprehensive and meaningful way to improve elections in Massachusetts, has strong momentum with over 100 cosponsors in the state legislature.
The Joint Committee on Election Laws heard from advocates and experts about the many ways the VOTES Act (H.805/S.459) will reduce barriers to voting and increase voter turnout, all while making democracy more accessible and equitable. The committee also heard from elections administrators who have implemented and administered these reforms successfully in other states.
The hearing is being streamed live, and a full recording will be available later at the same location: https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/3725
The bill includes mail-in voting, expanded early voting, Same Day Registration, improvements to jail-based voting, and various election infrastructure improvements. The bill’s chief sponsors, Senator Cindy Creem and Representative John Lawn, also testified in support.
“Today’s hearing on the VOTES Act clearly demonstrated how its provisions will increase voter participation and modernize our election registration process, while maintaining an efficient and secure election process,” said Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton).
“It’s critical that we ensure reforms that already worked for voters, and that voters expect will be available to them again, are in place for our upcoming municipal elections and future state election,” said Representative John Lawn (D-Watertown).
The bill is being championed by the Election Modernization Coalition which organized turnout for the hearing and weighed in on the record. Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG said, “The VOTES Act will bring Massachusetts into the 21st century by increasing access to voting, expanding equity, and updating systems which ensure accuracy of our elections.”
Advocates stressed the success of mail voting in 2020, the importance of expanding access to the ballot for low-income voters, voters of color, youth, and first-time voters with reforms like Same Day Registration, and the need to modernize outdated aspects of the Massachusetts electoral system. “In the Gateway Cities and Boston, only 66.3 % of residents cast their ballot in the 2020 election, with 35.7% of ballots cast by mail — compared to the 81% voter turnout with 44.5% of mailed ballots in majority white municipalities,” said Beth Huang, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, “The VOTES Act would lead to more equitable and accessible elections.”
“Now is the time to think big. While making mail-in and early in-person voting permanent is a great step forward, we must also implement Same Day Registration and make critical improvements to election infrastructure,” said Geoff Foster, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts.
“A true participatory democracy should be the goal for the Commonwealth, but lived experiences of communities of color have shown that they need voting systems that are more flexible and accessible,” said Sophia Hall, Supervising Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The VOTES Act is the best path forward to serve those constituencies.”
“It is crucial for Massachusetts to set an example as a state moving to increase—not decrease—access to the polls and secure elections. The times demand that Massachusetts goes on record as enhancing the ability of all citizens to vote,” said Pattye Comfort, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
“Every eligible voter should be able to cast a ballot,” said Rahsaan Hall, Racial Justice Program Director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We need to establish Same Day Registration to strip away barriers that particularly impact first-time voters, low-income workers, and voters of color. And we must improve ballot access for the thousands of incarcerated people who maintain a legal right to vote, but who are disenfranchised by systemic neglect. If the legislature fails to act on these provisions, Massachusetts will not be doing enough to ensure that every eligible voter, especially voters of color, can vote in practice.”
“Our democracy must be made as accessible and inclusive as possible,” said Alex Psilakis, Policy and Communications Manager at MassVOTE. “The VOTES Act takes numerous steps to make this possible, implementing key reforms like permanent vote by mail, expanded early in-person voting, same day voter registration, and more. Through this legislation, we may empower the Commonwealth’s BIPOC, low-income, and immigrant voters, who currently face unjust barriers to the polls.”
Advocates’ message was clear: the bill that the committee releases for a House and Senate floor vote must be comprehensive and address the needs of all eligible voters across the Commonwealth.
The Election Modernization Coalition is composed of the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, Lawyers for Civil Rights, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, and the Massachusetts Voter Table.