BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate voted 37-1 yesterday to pass legislation reforming election laws in the Commonwealth. The Senate’s bill authorizes early voting for state and federal elections and primaries, allows residents to register to vote on Election Day and creates an online voter registration system. It also allows 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.
Under this bill, Massachusetts would join the 32 other states and the District of Columbia that allow early voting. Early voting would begin 10 business days before the election and end two days before the election. The first early voting period would occur in 2016.
This legislation would also place voters on the inactive list only after not voting in two consecutive federal elections and not responding to a notice from the city or town. Under current law, a voter can be placed on the inactive list for not filling out an annual census. If a voter does not vote in two additional federal elections, the voter will be removed from the voter list.
In addition to building an online voter registration system, the Secretary of State would create a secure online portal to allow voters to easily check their voter registration status and polling place.
The bill also allows a voter whose political designation does not list a candidate to receive a ballot for the political party of the voter’s choosing. The legal definition of “political designation” does not include the republican and democrat political parties.
The legislation also:
Allows 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections in Lowell if voters in Lowell approve the measure;
Eliminates the requirement of a check-out desk at polling places;
Requires municipal election officials to attend annual training given by the Secretary of State regarding applicable state and federal election laws;
Eliminates the requirement for a cancellation device on voting machines;
Clarifies that the police detail requirement at polling locations may not apply to early voting sites; and,
Establishes an elections task force to review early voting and expanding technology, including costs, administrative requirements, and reductions in wait times on Election Day, the feasibility of additional early voting sites and hours, voter turnout, Election Day mobile alerts and online voting.
The House of Representatives passed their own election reform bill in November 2013 (H. 3788). The Senate bill (S. 1975) and the House bill now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill, which must be adopted by the House and Senate in order for it to be considered by the Governor.
During a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate, known as a Constitutional Convention, in October, the Legislature advanced an amendment filed by Senate President Therese Murray (D- Plymouth) to the Massachusetts Constitution that would also allow for early voting in the Commonwealth. Any constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature must be passed by two successive Legislatures and also requires approval by voters in Massachusetts before it can take effect.