Voting Rights Advocates Applaud Progress on Comprehensive Voting Bill
Boston, MA — The Massachusetts VOTES Act Conference Committee today released its version of the comprehensive election reform bill, which will now head to the House and Senate for final procedural votes before being sent to Governor Baker’s desk.
Voting rights advocates, public interest groups and a network of state and local organizations praised the legislation advanced by House and Senate conferees today. The bill, An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security or the VOTES Act, is the largest expansion of voting access in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in years.
The VOTES Act will make several permanent changes to Massachusetts’ election laws, including: allowing voters to vote by mail without an excuse; expanding early voting options; making sure that eligible voters who are incarcerated are able to request a mail ballot and vote; and ensuring that the Commonwealth joins the 30-state Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to keep voter registration rolls up-to-date; and more. The bill also reduces the voter registration blackout period prior to an election from twenty days to ten.
The conferees dropped from the final bill a popular reform passed by the Senate that would have allowed voters to both register and vote on Election Day and early voting days.
The VOTES Act, sponsored by State Representative John Lawn and Senator Cindy Creem, is strongly supported by the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition, a coalition of advocacy organizations working to modernize the Commonwealth’s election laws.
“We are excited that the VOTES Act is one step away from becoming law. We’d like to thank Senate President Spilka and Speaker Mariano for making voting rights a priority this legislative session and Chairman John Lawn and Senate Majority Leader Creem for their leadership as sponsors,” said Geoff Foster, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “We look forward to seeing the Governor sign the bill into law.”
“Voting by mail and in-person early voting made it easier and safer for people to vote during the pandemic and should continue to improve turnout in our elections. The League applauds the legislature for making these reforms permanent, and we encourage legislators to continue to improve access to the ballot box by taking up same-day voter registration in the next session,” said Patricia Comfort, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
“With the passage of the VOTES Act, now is the time to double our commitment to equity. This means ensuring that people of color, hourly workers, naturalized citizens, and renters can use mail-in voting and early voting this fall. That’s why we’re launching voter education initiatives in communities of color and working-class neighborhoods across the Commonwealth,” said Beth Huang, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, a coalition of community organizations. “Doubling our commitment to equity also means that we will continue our efforts to pass same-day registration in 2023. Same-day registration would reduce barriers to registration for renters, who are disproportionately people of color in a state with a widening racial homeownership gap.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “At a time when so many other rights are under attack nationwide, Massachusetts must do all it can to strengthen our democracy and improve access to the ballot box. We are grateful that legislative leadership has made it a priority to advance these voting reforms this session, and look forward to continued partnership on Beacon Hill to make sure that all eligible Bay Staters who want to cast a ballot are able to do so.”
“As we’ve all learned over the last few years, voting can look different in different states,” remarked Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “Our coalition wants Massachusetts to be at the top–with access, efficiency, and modern systems. With this bill, we move a step closer.”
“Three years ago – prior to the COVID19 pandemic – none of us thought mail-in and expanded early in-person voting would be the reality in Massachusetts,” said Vanessa Snow, Policy and Organizing Director at MassVOTE. “But three years later, after both policies proved immensely popular throughout the pandemic, we are thrilled to see the legislature move one step closer to permanently implementing these reforms. We are disappointed that Election Day Registration will not be included in the final bill, but we will fight tirelessly for this reform in the years ahead, as we know it is one of the most effective tools to increasing voter turnout amongst Black and brown, low income, and immigrant communities.”
The Election Modernization Coalition is made up of Common Cause Massachusetts, ACLU of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, MASSPIRG, and Lawyers for Civil Rights.