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On Massachussetts' Elections Bill

On Monday, the Massachusetts General Assembly announced election bill H.4072, an omnibus voting package that has been reconciled from 2013 companion bills H.3788 and S. 1975. The final bill, which will take effect beginning in 2016, makes important inroads towards modernizing Massachusetts’ electoral processes as a part of the continuous effort to grant its residents expanded access to the ballot.

H.4072 features include:

Early Voting: H.4072 establishes early voting between the 11th and second business days before Election Day. Upon receiving Governor Deval Patrick’s signature, Massachusetts will become the 33rd state to enact early voting.

Online Voter Registration: Going forward, Massachusettsans will be able to register, check and update their voter registration status by means of an online portal; Massachusetts will become the 20th state to adapt this reform.

Pre-Registration for 16- and 17-Year-Olds: Under H.4072, 16 and 17 year olds will be able to register and designated as “pre-registrants” until they turn 18. As a number of studies find that people who begin voting early in their voting tenure are more likely to commit to the practice throughout their lives, preregistration systems serve as a necessary response to this fact. Massachusetts will become the 37th state to allow some form of preregistration.

Elections Task Force: In addition, H.4072 creates an Election Task Force, which is charged with studying the impacts of aforementioned reforms on voter turnout and election administration issues (e.g., election costs, voter fraud, voter machines efficiency, voter wait times, etc.). Its members will meet beginning in 2016, and report its findings from that year’s election cycle in 2017. 

Despite the remarkable gains that H.4072 provide, Same-Day Registration (SDR), which was an amended component of the pre-reconciled bills, is missing from the final bill, despite the reform’s proven track record of increasing voter turnout both overall and especially amongst communities of color and/or low-income, younger and geographically mobile voters. Had SDR remained, H.4072 could have been touted as one of the strongest pro-voter measures to be produced at the state level in recent memory, serving as a counterbalance against the influx of anti-voter reforms that are taking hold nationwide. One silver lining: the above-mentioned Elections Task Force will evaluate the possibility of SDR for future implementation.

H.4072 is a great and important step for Massachusetts, and hopefully this is a catalyst for even better changes, as opposed to the resting place for pro-voter reforms in the Bay State.