Massachusetts Needs Voting Reform

Last year, Massachusetts made universal no-excuse mail-in voting available to voters during the 2020 statewide primary and general election, in an effort to make voting COVID-safe and accessible to all. Although it was only a temporary change designed to be a short-term adjustment to the pandemic, expiring at the end of March, the results were outstanding.

Turnout during both the statewide September 1 primary and the general election were at record highs, especially among young voters, new voters, and communities with low turnout. The process wasn’t without its challenges - many municipalities, especially in marginalized communities, reported various systemic issues that affected turnout. These included inaccessibility with dropboxes and few places to drop off your ballot, confusion on early voting sites and times, and difficulties with sending and receiving vote by mail applications and absentee ballots. But despite these difficulties, turnout was significantly higher than any recent year, showing that the low turnout elections of the past that primarily disenfranchise young and marginalized do not have to be the standard.

Beacon Hill is starting to notice. A growing number of reps (and the Secretary of State himself) have recognized the necessity for comprehensive democracy reform that goes much further than the quick fixes of 2020. Mail-in voting is a great start that we desperately need in the Commonwealth, but it isn’t enough to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

According to State House News Service, Secretary of State Bill Galvin said Tuesday that he would file legislation to make no-excuse vote-by-mail permanent in the Commonwealth. This bill said his bill would also implement same-day voter registration in Massachusetts, allowing eligible voters who need to register or update their voting information to do so at the polls on Election Day before casting their ballot. At the moment, voters must be registered at least 20 days before Election Day in order to be eligible to vote. This bill would also expand in-person early voting options by making weekend voting in statewide elections and primaries available to all, making the early vote period spanning 14 days for general elections and seven days for primaries.

Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. John Lawn, and a coalition of advocacy groups such as Common Cause, MASSPIRG, and others introduced the VOTES Act this Wednesday, which would make last year’s election reforms permanent. In addition to making vote-by-mail permanent, it would also implement same-day voter registration, improve ballot access for incarcerated eligible voters, improve the automatic voter registration system, and introduce “risk-limiting post-election audits. This bill was written in collaboration with city and town clerks throughout the state, who witnessed firsthand the problems with our voting infrastructure last cycle navigating the difficulties of the pandemic.

It’s clear: without democracy reform, we will continue to see low turnout and elections that don’t accurately reflect the will of the public. Massachusetts already has the least competitive elections in the country - and it’s a huge driving factor and it’s a huge driving factor for why we’re consistently unable to pass the policies working people need. We cannot have a functioning democracy without making the right to vote accessible for all, and we hope the Legislature will make democracy reform a priority this coming session.