STATEMENT: Broad Voting Rights Coalition Calls For Independent Election Commission In Massachusetts

Release Date: 
November 20, 2006

Boston, MA — A broad coalition of organizations that care about the quality of elections in Massachusetts issues the following call for change:

The right to vote is essential to the legitimacy of our democracy.

On November 7th, over 10 percent of precincts in Boston ran out of ballots during the peak voting time.

No voter should have to wait hours for a ballot. No voter should be denied a ballot. This failure by the City of Boston is unacceptable.

This is the most recent in a series of serious impediments to free and fair elections in Massachusetts. In the September primary, ballots in several Boston precincts were not counted.

The problem of poor election administration goes beyond Boston. It is a statewide issue highlighted by the following problems:

* Non-compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Massachusetts had until September 19, 2006, to provide new voting systems for voters with disabilities at every polling location in the state. Despite having four years to implement this critical provision of HAVA, the state failed to meet the deadline and remained non-compliant in the November election. The state "tested" three new machines at limited polling locations earlier this month, but this did not meet HAVA's mandate for serving all voters with disabilities. In Boston, the new AutoMark voting machines not only failed to provide voters with the most common Chinese dialect spoken in the city — a violation of the Memorandum of Agreement with the Justice Department--but they failed to properly mark ballots with the voters' choices. In addition, another of the new voting machines, Diebold's TSx, has a history of lacking verifiability in the accurate counting of votes. Additionally, despite Federal mandates, many of the state's polling places continue to be inaccessible to voters with disabilities, making it difficult or impossible for them to exercise their franchise.
* Failure to protect the rights of language minorities. There have been long-term problems in Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, and Lowell--including failures to provide required assistance, interpreters and signage, to voters with limited English proficiency. In Boston and Springfield, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was forced to file lawsuits to protect the rights of these voters. The DOJ has previously intervened in both Lawrence and Chelsea for the same reasons when the state failed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
* Unfair Inactivation of Voters. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that ties an annual census to its active voter list. Current Election law states that anyone not responding to the annual census is to be immediately placed on the inactive voter list. This has led to voters being improperly disenfranchised. The majority of cases have occurred in urban centers where young voters and voters of color live and where residents tend to rent and move more often than suburban and rural voters. For example, 28,000 mostly Latino voters were incorrectly placed on the inactive voter list in Lawrence in 2005, leading to the lowest voter turnout in years.

As organizations that care deeply about protecting the right to vote, we call upon the governor-elect, Deval Patrick, to appoint an independent election review commission to conduct a top to bottom review of election practices and procedures in Boston and across Massachusetts.

The commission should be headed by an independent expert and include a representative from the Secretary of State's office, a representative from the City of Boston, a representative from the city and town clerk association, outside election law experts, and representatives from community organizations concerned with voting issues.

This commission should be charged with a goal of creating concrete policy recommendations to ensure fair, competent, and efficient elections, and to encourage more people to vote from across the Commonwealth. The commission should be formed quickly, solicit public input, and should issue a public report no later than June 1, 2007.

Further, we call upon Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Secretary of State William Galvin to participate with the governor-elect and the commission in looking for solutions. We call on each of them to reach out to the community, to hear from unbiased, outside experts and community members, to work together, and to suggest solutions.

Organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
Bay State Council of the Blind
Black Political Task Force
Chinese Progressive Association
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Common Cause
Demos
Disability Policy Consortium
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association
MassVOTE
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
NAACP Boston Branch
National Voting Rights Institute
New England Area Conference of the NAACP (NEAC)
¿Oíste?: The MA Latino Political Organization


Contacts:
Giovanna Negretti, ¿Oíste?, 617.426.6633
Bill Allan, Disability Policy Council, 617.359.2599
Bob Hachey, Bay State Council of the Blind, 617.972.9109
James Cofield, Black Political Task Force, 617.524.9090
John Bonifaz, National Voting Rights Inst/Demos, 617.624.3900x22
Sheila Decter, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, 617.277.3000
Pam Wilmot, CommonCause of Massachusetts, 617.426.9600
Avi Green, MassVOTE, 617.542.8683
Nadine Cohen, Lawyers Committee, 617.988.0609
Lenoard Alkins, NAACP, 617.427.9494
Lydia Lowe, Chinese Progressive Association, 617.259.1503
Ali Noorani, Mass Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, 617.350.5480 x201
Timothy Rusch, Demos, 212.389.1407, trusch@demos.org

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