Election Modernization

MASSPIRG and the Election Modernization Coaltion have launched the Early Voting Challenge to highlight the great opportunities early voting offers Massachusetts and encourage state and municipal governments to implement them effectively.

Although Massachusetts is one of the most progressive states in the country, our election system has only recently been the focus of updates and modernization efforts. MASSPIRG is part of the Election Modernization Coalition (EMC), and our advocacy and public education is about making voting more accessible. Recent victories allow  for online voter registration and early voting, and we’re now working with the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as cities and towns across the Commonwealth, to ensure both are successfully implemented before the 2016 elections. We’re also pushing the state legislature to adopt automatic voter registration (AVR), a reform passed in other states that would make registration easier and increase participation in our democracy. 

Automatic Voter Registration

Democracy should include every citizen; this is a key tenet of the American belief system. Unfortunately, we’re not currently living up to that ideal, as millions of eligible voters are not registered and thus can’t participate in elections. A major problem is that our antiquated voter registration system, which is largely paper-based, has fallen behind the modernization that has made our everyday lives more convenient.

Currently, this system, plagued by inaccuracy and obscurity has left too many eligible voters unregistered (stats taken from Brennan Center for Justice):

  • Nationally, one in four eligible citizens is unregistered to vote
  • One in eight registrations is invalid or significantly inaccurate.
  • National research shows that one in four voters mistakenly believes his or her voter registration will be automatically updated when they change their address.
  • The failure of the current system lies in partially its inability to reflect the mobility of modern society. In fact, one third of unregistered voters are those “who had moved and hadn’t re-registered.”

This is a state issue as well. Currently, almost one in five eligible voters are unregistered in Massachusetts. Millenials are especially underrepresented as voters - between 2006 and 2012 voter registration rates varied from 67.5% to as low as 25.5% (MASSVOTE). MASSPIRG believes that in the age of smartphones, our current system is outdated and can be improved to the benefit of voters and election officials alike.

To ensure every eligible citizen’s right to have his or her vote counted, MASSPIRG supports automatic voter registration (AVR). Such a system would automatically identify and register every eligible citizen, establishing a secure voter registration database. Every time an eligible citizen interacts with certain state agencies, such as the RMV, their registration information will be automatically updated. An AVR  system would thus make registration portable, so that it moves along with voters when they change their addresses.

Additionally, in this AVR system, adequate safeguards would exist to protect registered voters’ privacy and create data error protections. Moreover, if someone wishes to remain unregistered, they will always have the ability to opt out of the system. 

So far, AVR has been passed in four states – California, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont. A similar policy has just passed the Illinois legislature, thanks in part to our sister organization ILPIRG, and is currently sitting on the governor’s desk. Because AVR reduces the administrative hoops eligible citizens have to jump through to access their ballots, this reform promises striking benefits for voter registration and turnout. For example, elections officials in Oregon estimate that under their new AVR  policy, the number of eligible but unregistered citizens will be reduced by 400,000, cutting the state’s total unregistered population in half. Additionally, one national study found that just making registration portable can increase voter turnout by over two percent.

Furthermore, AVR reduces the burden on elections officials, increasing the accuracy of voter rolls and reducing the potential for voter fraud while also decreasing cost. It would augment the integrity of voter rolls by leaving less room for human error such as bad handwriting, and the mishandling of paper forms. Additionally, an AVR system processes more real-time information than our current system, eliminating outdated and duplicate records.

Online Voter Registration

After a several year push by our Coalition, in May 2014, the Massachusetts legislature passed an historic reform of our state’s election laws, including establishing online voter registration, early voting (see below) pre-registration and more.

When the law went into effect on June 23rd 2015, Massachusetts became the 21st state to offer online voter registration. This system makes it easier for people to register and vote, and will hopefully increase voter turnout in the November 2016 election. Additionally, national research suggests that online voter registration will likely reduce costs, enhance government efficiency, and improve the integrity of voter rolls as well as increase voter satisfaction and reduce burdens on election officials. 

When registering online, applicants will need to enter identifying information, which will then be verified by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Applicants who lack a driver’s license or RMV identification will be directed to a mail-in version of the application, which will print with all of the applicant’s personal information and will be pre-addressed to the correct local election official.

Online voter registration is a great step in modernizing our elections, increasing the integrity of voter rolls, and removing administrative barriers to voting. However, in order for it to fulfill its potential, it needs to be more widely publicized, so that beneficiaries can take advantage of this incredibly useful tool. MASSPIRG will continue to conduct public education on college campuses and other communities in Massachusetts.  

Early Voting

A key part of the Election Modernization law establishes early voting, starting with the November 2016 election. Early voting is an important step for expanding access to our democracy. It gives people whose work or family obligations preclude them from standing in line, or even getting to the polls on Election Day, more opportunities to cast their vote. The newly established early voting period will start eleven business days preceding the election. Within that period, municipalities are required to have at least one voting site open during normal business hours. However, beyond this ‘floor’ outlined in the legislation, cities and towns can do much more to expand the effectiveness of early voting, such as setting additional times and locations for voting.

In order to ensure the effectiveness and success of early voting, the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition has issued standards for cities and towns to reach beyond the bill’s floor. We believe these recommendations will ensure that early voting meets its goals: easing access to the ballot for Massachusetts voters, shortening lines at polling locations, and improving the voting experience.  Below is an overview of the inaugural Early Voting Challenge, which we issued in the fall of 2015 to all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns, and a fullt list of our Coalition's recommendations.

Recommended Standards

The new law requires Massachusetts municipalities to have at least one early voting location and leaves the possibility of multiple sites up to each community’s discretion. While only one site is necessary in smaller towns, more populated areas need additional locations to ensure that voters are able to vote without undue delay and inconvenience. We recommend that municipalities provide at least one early voting site for every 35,000 people.*

  • This figure comes from a Common Cause survey of election administrators across the U.S., and reflects the average population reported for multiple sites in other states. 
  • We encourage all municipalities besides Boston* to round up and consider exceeding the minimum recommended standard.  
  • The number of voting locations should also be subject to considerations like geography and transportation access. 

When selecting venues for additional sites, we recommend municipalities consider non-traditional locations, such as grocery stores. National research has shown that voters often prefer locations where they have other business. All sites should have accommodations for those with disabilities, have access to public transportation and parking, be easily recognizable, and contain floor plans that reduce congestion. In addition, all of the different kinds of ballots for a given municipality should be available at each site. This will increase ease of access and facilitate more effective publicity by removing the need to get voters to a particular location.

 

*The City of Boston is so large and so densely populated that the 35,000 figure leads to 17 early voting sites, which may be more than is necessary, especially during the first year of implementation.

For all municipalities, evening and weekend hours will be an important and effective method of maximizing the impact of early voting. We recommend:

  • Municipalities provide evening hours at least two times per week during early voting.
  • Municipalities provide weekend hours at least once during early voting. 

To help limit the cost of extending operations to include evening and weekend hours, some municipalities may want to shift some normal hours (of the same duration) to incorporate evenings and weekends. Once established, advertising of hours and locations should be maximized, particularly in the first year of early voting. Beyond announcements in local newspapers, municipalities should consider publicity options such as: press conferences, TV and/or radio ads, plugging early voting in voter guides, billboards, presentations at local civic organizations, and announcements in schools

Issue updates

Blog Post | Democracy

Election Modernization Coalition Statement on Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin | Janet Domenitz

Court strikes down barrier to voting, coalition praises decision.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Automatic Voter Registration hearing

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Election Laws held a public hearing today to consider Automatic Voter Registration, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Peter Kocut. MASSPIRG, along with other members of the Election Modernization Coalition---including League of Women Voters/Massachusetts, Common Cause/Massachusetts, MassVOTE, Mass Voter Table, Progressive MA and others, packed the hearing room to urge passage of the bill. 

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Read MASSPIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

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Early Voting Awards

As part of the Election Modernization Coalition MASSPIRG Education Fund presented awards to 201 cities and towns for their early voting efforts. 

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Pages

News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Automatic Voter Registration hearing

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Election Laws held a public hearing today to consider Automatic Voter Registration, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Peter Kocut. MASSPIRG, along with other members of the Election Modernization Coalition---including League of Women Voters/Massachusetts, Common Cause/Massachusetts, MassVOTE, Mass Voter Table, Progressive MA and others, packed the hearing room to urge passage of the bill. 

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News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read MASSPIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Democracy

Early Voting Awards

As part of the Election Modernization Coalition MASSPIRG Education Fund presented awards to 201 cities and towns for their early voting efforts. 

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Media Hit | Democracy

Real Power Lies in your Vote

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Election Modernization Coalition Releases Status Update on Implementation of Early Voting in Massachusetts

The groups noted that a successful implementation of early voting will have a particular impact on those with multiple jobs and minimal resources.

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Result | Democracy

Winning voter reforms in Massachusetts

MASSPIRG helped win two important reforms to engage new voters and give all citizens an equal opportunity to vote. We fought for and won online voter registration, which allows residents with state IDs or driver’s licenses to register to vote online. We also won early voting, which allows residents to vote 11 business days before Election Day.   

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Result | Democracy

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In 2008, for the first time in 20 years, the number of young voters going to the polls exceeded the number of voters over age 65. Our New Voters Project played a part in making it happen in Massachusetts, helping more than 10,000 students register to vote on Massachusetts college campuses.

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Early Voting Principles

 In May 2014, the Massachusetts legislature passed an historic reform of our state’s election laws. As part of the new law, it established early voting starting with the November 2016 election. Early voting is one important way to expand access to our democracy. It allows people whose work or family obligations preclude them from standing in line or even getting to the polls on Election Day, more opportunities to vote. The early voting period starts 11 business days preceding the election.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

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Blog Post | Democracy

Election Modernization Coalition Statement on Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin | Janet Domenitz

Court strikes down barrier to voting, coalition praises decision.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Statement from the Election Modernization Coalition Praising Boston's Early Voting Efforts | Janet Domenitz

In an election year that promises to have record turnout, access to the polls will be more important than ever. That is why the Election Modernization Coalition is pleased that the City of Boston has released today a citizen’s survey to inform their early voting plan for this fall. 

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