The committee working to resolve the differences between the House and Senate on election legislation reported out a compromise bill last week. We approved the report unanimously in the Senate. The bill will come back for final enactment next week.
Here are the main elements of what was reported out:
- A new mechanism to allow voters to vote early — that is, in the days before an election. This should reduce election day overload. It applies only to biennial general elections. It permits, but does not require, early voting hours beyond the normal business hours of the clerks. The process is a workaround for the constitutional provision which limits absentee voting to actual inability to vote on election day. The process could be simpler if we waited to get an amendment through allowing no-excuse absentee voting. With the new legislation, there will be three ballot procedures — for early ballots, absentee ballots and regular election day ballots. I’m not convinced that the process is well designed, but it’s clear that people have given it a lot of thought — it has evolved considerably in the conference discussions.
- A new mechanism to allow voters to register online — not clear how much this will add to voter registration, but the goal is to streamline the registration process for people. This is not online voting, just online registration.
- A new mechanism to allow voters to pre-register at the age of 16. They won’t be able to vote until 18, but they can get on the books early. Again, the goal is to encourage participation. Some have argued that this will create administrative overhead and diminish the rite of passage of registration at 18.
- Ability for the Secretary of State to waive minimum staffing rules for polling places that are enshrined in law. This may allow some streamlining and cost-saving.
- A new auditing mechanism — it will require a hand count of 3 per cent of the precincts in the state in a presidential general election. This responds to concerns on behalf of election law reform advocates that their could be fraud accomplished through electronic manipulation of voting machines.
- Yes, the bigger problem really is financing. We are still hoping to get disclosure legislation done this year. I will be among those disappointed if we don’t.
- I’m with those who don’t favor adding ID requirements into our voting process. I think they will add a burden to voting without solving any identity fraud problem that is real, at least so far in Massachusetts.
- LS Jacobs, the problem for early voting so far has been that the way our constitution is worded which basically requires people to vote at their regular polling place unless they physically cannot. However, people have created a new legal mechanism in this legislation which they believe will withstand constitutional testing.
- Matt, The changes will take some time to implement and shake out. We may feel able to expand to more elections after a couple of years experience.
- Dan, I like your comments.about requiring performance standards and also the runoff form. I think that those are both ideas that merit development in Massachusetts.
The bill does not provide for same day registration and voting.
For earlier comments from me on this and other election law issues, please see this thread.
Thanks to all weighing in below.
A few responses:
We enacted the legislation finally this week.