Senate Passes Election Reform Bill

Here is the press release prepared by the Senate President’s office on the passage of the Election Reform Bill.


Senate Passes Election Reform Bill

BOSTON – The Senate on Thursday voted 37-1 to pass legislation reforming the election laws in the Commonwealth by authorizing early voting for state and federal elections and primaries, allowing residents to register to vote on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system. The bill also allows 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.

“This bill will modernize the state’s election system and bring us in line with many other states that have already successfully implemented early voting,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “Supporting the right to vote should be our top priority and these changes are necessary to help us reach that goal.”

“The legislation offered today takes significant steps to update our election laws for the modern day Massachusetts family,” said Senator Barry R. Finegold (D-Andover), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. “The time has come to make these election modernizations. Early voting, preregistration, and online voter registration will make our elections more accessible by expanding access and participation in our elections. The fundamental right of voting is the bedrock of civic engagement and our democracy.”

“The importance of voting should be stressed from an early age with the hope that young people will recognize this responsibility and carry it through into adulthood,” said Senator Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), Chair of Senate Ways and Means. “This bill takes important steps to streamline the process of voting and registration and will encourage civic engagement across the Commonwealth.”

Under this bill, Massachusetts would join 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 bill 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 bill also does the following:

  • 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, 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 Legislature moved an amendment filed by President Murray to the Massachusetts Constitution to third reading in October 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.

The Senate bill and the House bill will now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the governor.




4 replies on “Senate Passes Election Reform Bill”

  1. Excellent news. I hope that this is passed in time to help out our voter registration drive this upcoming election season. Or will it not be implemented in time for that?

  2. Hard to know when it will be finalized. The House and Senate versions of the legislation are quite different, so there will necessarily be a conference committee. It is more or less routine that conference committees don’t finish their work until near the end of the session (in July) when all pending conference committees become part of one big final horse trade.

    The big things in the House bill were:

    • enhanced training for clerks’ offices;
    • early voting;
    • online voter registration.

    The Senate went further, including those items and adding several major items:

    • pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds;
    • a limited post-election audit requirement;
    • and, most significantly, election day registration.

    I support all of concepts in these bills, and voted for the Senate Bill, but I’m concerned about the implementation challenges that may arise. It will be important for the conferees to hear from the people who make the system work mechanically to make sure that all the kinks in the legislation are worked out. In the Senate yesterday, we passed 22 floor amendments — by their nature more likely to include kinks than vetted committee language.

  3. Will and the whole Senate should be congratulated on this excellent, comprehensive, progressive step on Election Modernization. It represents a major advance in ensuring access to voting for all Mass. citizens, and bringing Mass. into the 21st century. The Senators should maintain pressure on the conference committee to retain all the provisions in the Senate bill, vs. the weak House alternative.

    Thank you.

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