Election Law Reform

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.
  • 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.

    Update (5/23)

    Thanks to all weighing in below.

    A few responses:

    • 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.

    We enacted the legislation finally this week.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

12 replies on “Election Law Reform”

  1. I think registration should be done in person, with at least 2 IDs including a photo. I think registration should not take place before the age of 18.

    I think registration should be looked at as an exciting opportunity to participate in government and encouraged as such. Making it too easy and too available is not a good idea. When I want something badly I don’t hesitate to put some effort into achieving it. And when I do work to achieve the goal (e.g. a trip to a registration center) I value the prize (my name on the voting rolls).

  2. Yes support all manner of reforms. Please ignore the pompous people who think that democracy should be worked for and toward in order to maintain it. Support all means to making voting easier to counter balance the effect of ambivalence and disinvestment that our system’s flaws instill in many. There should be no inconvenience to voting and no barriers that government can do away with allowed to remain standing. S

  3. I believe that the state should have some standards concerning the ratio of registered voters in a precinct and voting booths to prevent long wait times at the polls.

    I also think the state should study the experiment and consider adopting a form of what was done in California which changes the party primary and general election into more of a preliminary election and final election. For both state and national elections it would allow for better decisions, reduce the power of the fringe voting groups to throw elections and forces the parties to encourage main stream candidates who seem to work together better than what existed before.

    Finally the laws concerning voter disenfranchisement need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that we allow maximum participation and restore voting rights quickly

  4. I see nothing wrong in getting 16 year old’s to register to vote early. It might get it in their minds this is an important duty of citizens. And I DO NOT support any effort to limit our votes by voter ID. This Republican idea is simply an effort to limit. The fraud they cite is mostly non existent not only in Massachusetts, but everywhere in the country. If the GOP & its supports cannot provide real ideas to address real problems they should retire. Making up fictional problems to solve is the old straw-man logic they used to use in arguments. Like it or not, the country is NOT staying old,white and conservative. So the GOP is going the way of the Whigs.

  5. It’s sounding like an improvement over the status quo. Shame that we cannot have early voting for municipal elections as well. That might be confusing.

    I am really looking forward to the online voter registration system, however! That should make our lives much easier.

  6. Election law reform as described on your website makes a lot of sense. Registersing to vote should be as easy possible

  7. Would love to see the voter reforms especially the early voting. Other states do this. Why can’t we in Massachusetts vote early besides absentee ballots.

  8. Dear Will,
    I am glad you are hard at work and grasp the art of compromise.I had thought the big problems of registration were at Other Places, but there we are. Also, the 900 lb gorilla remains financing. I read that Sarbanes, Jr. has devised legislation in Congress to fund big multiples (3x or 6x) of small contributions to offset Kochs et al. I hope you follow that story – would it apply to Mass??
    Best regards, John M.

  9. Picture ID’s are required for just about everything and proving legality to vote should be at the top of the list. After more than 200 years, isn’t it way beyond time everyone should have a legal ID?

  10. I trust you favor the (campaign contributions) Disclosure Bill H.4226 that the House just passed and will work to bring it to a vote in the Senate.

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