As other state legislatures restrict the freedom to vote, Massachusetts advances a pro-voter bill
This evening, the Massachusetts Senate voted 36-3 in favor of a comprehensive bill, the VOTES Act, to improve voters’ access to the ballot and ensure that the Commonwealth’s elections are free and fair.
The legislation is based on bills filed by Representative John Lawn and Senator Cynthia Creem and cosponsored by more than 100 legislators. The VOTES Act is strongly supported by the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition, an umbrella group working to modernize the Commonwealth’s election laws. More than 100 grassroots organizations across the Bay State have endorsed the legislation.
The Senate bill will:
- allow voters to cast ballots by mail, making permanently available the method of voting chosen by 41% of Massachusetts voters in last fall’s election;
- expand options for in-person early voting, the method used by 23% of Massachusetts voters in last fall’s election;
- make permanent several changes implemented during the pandemic, including ballot return drop-boxes and advance processing of mail ballots, to avoid delaying election results;
- implement same-day voter registration for both election day and early voting days, so that voters are not turned away because of mistakes in their registration, and voters who have moved recently can vote at their new addresses;
- fix the Automatic Voter Registration system to update voter registrations of people who interact with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth or the Commonwealth Health Connector;
- require the Secretary of State to send ballot applications for state and federal elections to all registered Massachusetts voters;
- direct the Secretary of State to create an online ballot application portal by July 1, 2022;
- ensure the Commonwealth will become a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) by July 1, 2022 (ERIC is a non-profit organization of states that improves the accuracy of voter rolls);
- guarantee that eligible incarcerated voters have access to ballots; and
- make other changes to improve Massachusetts voters’ access to ballots.
The Massachusetts legislature is considering this pro-voter legislation at the same time other states are moving to make it harder for voters to cast ballots. So far this year, 19 states have enacted 33 laws that create barriers to the ballot, particularly for Black, Brown and low-income voters.
“With the Marathon coming up, let’s just say we are truly grateful to the Senate for getting us to Rte 16 in Wellesley, and we look forward to crossing the finish line with the House,” said Janet Domenitz, director of MASSPIRG.
“Our democracy needs comprehensive reforms that center equity, remove barriers to voting, and modernize our elections,” said Geoff Foster, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “The VOTES Act does all of that and we’re thrilled to see it pass the Senate and move to the House. We are confident with The Senate President and Speaker’s commitment to election reform this session, a strong bill will reach Governor Baker’s desk that makes our democracy more accessible and equitable.”
“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts applauds the Senate for its action to improve access to the ballot in our state. We look forward to this bill becoming law and to Massachusetts setting an example for voting rights action in Congress,” said Patricia Comfort, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
“In the Gateway Cities and Boston, only 66.3 % of residents cast their ballot in the 2020 election, compared to the 81% voter turnout in majority white municipalities,” said Beth Huang, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, “The VOTES Act will lead to more equitable and accessible elections and we’re excited to see it pass the Senate.”
“Voting reforms need to prioritize racial equity. Same-day registration is proven to improve access to the ballot for people of color, and Massachusetts should not be behind 20 other states on that front,” said Rahsaan Hall, Racial Justice Program Director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We’re thrilled that the Senate has taken this critical vote, and that more than half of the House sponsored the VOTES Act, putting same-day registration squarely on the state’s election reform agenda this session.”
“MassVOTE is thrilled to see the Senate take the key step of passing the VOTES Act today,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, the Executive Director of MassVOTE. “The VOTES Act will empower all Massachusetts voters, but especially Black and brown, low income, and immigrant individuals, who currently face numerous, unjust barriers to the ballot box. Key elements of the VOTES Act, like Same Day Registration will help address this. We look forward to partnering with the House of Representatives as this bill continues through the legislative process.”