In a move which would advance huge reforms for democracy in Massachusetts, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on Thursday, January 16, to modernize our elections. The bill includes online voter registration, early voting, pre-registration for 16 year-olds, post-election audits of voting machines, Election Day registration, permanent voter registration and inactive voter reform. Legislation to establish early voting and online voter registration passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed last year.
If the Senate bill is passed by the House and signed by Governor Patrick, Massachusetts would finally catch up to other states, many of which have long provided these tools. Massachusetts would join 19 other states in offering online voter registration. Early voting is allowed in 32 states. Thirteen states, including our neighbors in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine have Election Day registration, and 14 states have adopted pre-registration of teens (age varies).
With a particular focus on young voters, MASSPIRG and Mass Student PIRG together have registered over 50,000 new voters in Massachusetts over the course of the past six statewide elections. Most of those new voters were between the ages of 18 and 24, a cohort which study after study shows are more likely to become lifelong voters if they start young. That said, the barriers to young people engaging in their franchise---like still requiring paper registration---are significant. The online registration provision as passed by both the house and the senate would go a very long way towards getting youth to exercise this most basic democratic right. Yet, to truly get our elections into the 21st century, we need to adopt all the reforms the senate overwhelmingly passed.
The push for this bill was led by the Election Modernization Coalition, a robust alliance comprised of Common Cause/Massachusetts, League of Women Voters/Massachusetts, MassVOTE, ACLU of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, Progressive Massachusetts, the MIRA Coalition, and others.