Voting Rights Advocates File Brief Against Massachusetts’s 20-Day Voter Registration Deadline

Release Date: 
February 21, 2018

MASSACHUSETTS - Yesterday, Demos, Rock the Vote, SEIU, and Massachusetts Community Action Network (MCAN), represented by attorneys from Cooley LLP, filed an amicus brief in a case challenging Massachusetts’s 20-day voter registration cutoff. In the case, Chelsea Collaborative v. Gavin, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is being asked to determine whether the state’s voter registration deadline violates the Massachusetts Constitution.

“In a democracy, our votes are our voice,” said Naila Awan, Counsel at Dēmos. “A 20-day voter registration cutoff unfairly keeps thousands of eligible people from voting until the next election. Historically marginalized communities, including voters of color and low-income populations, as well as people who have recently moved, are the most likely to be disenfranchised by early cutoffs like Massachusetts’s.”

Last summer, the Suffolk Superior Court ruled that Massachusetts’s voter registration deadline violated the right to vote enshrined in the state’s constitution. It determined that election officials continued to process applications and add voters to the rolls after the 20-day deadline, and that the officials had to rely on a program to actually remove the name of late registrants from the final voter printout.

“Massachusetts’s early voter registration deadlines fail to serve a compelling or legitimate interest and improperly burden a state constitutional right,” said Ellen Scordino, Partner at Cooley LLP. “There are a number of proven, commonsense alternatives that the state could adopt that would expand, rather than restrict, the right to vote.”

The amicus brief examines how, across the country, legislatures in sixteen states and the District of Columbia have done away with formal voter registration cutoffs by enacting Same-Day Registration (SDR). SDR allows eligible individuals to register and vote on the same day; it may be available during early voting and on Election Day.

“SDR is not only feasible, it is an efficient and effective way to make voting more accessible,” said Jen Tolentino, Director of Policy and Civic Tech at Rock the Vote. “SDR brings more Americans, especially first-time voters, into the political process by allowing them to register to vote in the weeks leading up to an election, when the public is most likely to be tuned in to the political process.”

In 2016, the six states with the highest voter turnout were also states that offered SDR. And, on average, voter turnout is seven points higher in states where SDR is available.

“Same-Day Registration helps create an electorate that is more representative of the state’s population,” said Rev. Dorothelia Littlepage of MCAN’s Boston group, Prophetic Resistance Boston. “That’s a big deal in Massachusetts, where huge racial disparities are reflected in voter registration rates.”

In states where it is available, SDR is disproportionately relied on by voters of color, low-income voters, and other traditionally marginalized populations that tend to move at higher rates and find themselves needing to update their voter registration information with greater regularity.

“As the brief makes it clear, Same-Day Registration systems benefit our democracy without burdening election administrators, and without financially burdening states,” said Harris Gruman, Executive Director of SEIU, Massachusetts State Council. “The fact that SDR has been effectively implemented by so many states makes it is clear that Massachusetts’s 20-day registration cutoff simply cannot be justified.”