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Deadline looms for keeping state voting reforms

Boston’s upcoming election should force lawmakers to pick up the pace.

Making mail-in voting part of the “new normal” — and expanding on other voting rights reforms — will make Massachusetts a beacon of hope at a time when many states’ voting rules are becoming more restrictive.
Making mail-in voting part of the “new normal” — and expanding on other voting rights reforms — will make Massachusetts a beacon of hope at a time when many states’ voting rules are becoming more restrictive.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Around the nation too many states are racing to hold back the tide of voter demand, tighten restrictions, make the sacred act of voting more difficult. Massachusetts, by contrast got through a crucial presidential election in the midst of a pandemic by making long overdue reforms in its election procedures — but only on a temporary basis.

Now once again the clock is ticking down. Those pandemic reforms are about to expire at the end of the month.

Few, however, want election reform to turn back into a pumpkin, a la Cinderella’s coach, when the clock strikes midnight on June 30. But that means coming to agreement on the shape of those already tried reforms — early voting, no excuses absentee voting, drop boxes — and adding to them same-day voter registration. It also means providing the funds to local election officials to make sure all this goes smoothly — now and into the future.

Oh, and doing that in a timely fashion — something the Legislature has, well, not always done terribly well. Elections, after all, take a good deal of preparation — even when they don’t involve shipments of masks and gloves for personnel manning those polling places.


Secretary of State Bill Galvin said he’s already “concerned” about the narrowing window for legislative action — concerned enough that he’s urging lawmakers to at least approve yet another stopgap measure to extend the most important pandemic era reforms through the end of the year. That would allow cities like Boston (with its scheduled Sept. 14 preliminary election), Lawrence, Holyoke, Lynn, and Framingham to plan for their fall elections without worrying about a potential rollback of those clearly popular reforms.

“It’s a shame that while other states are extinguishing voter rights that we can’t light a flame here,” Galvin said in an interview. “Why can’t we be an example by going in the right direction?”


There is a good deal of consensus around the basic parameters of what will constitute the future of voting in Massachusetts — especially after the great, albeit unintended, pilot program of 2020. After all, if a record 3.6 million people, representing 76 percent of registered voters, can make their voices heard in the middle of a pandemic, then that ought to point lawmakers in the right direction.

Nearly 42 percent of those who voted used mail-in ballots, 23 percent went to early-voting centers and slightly more than 35 percent cast ballots on Election Day, according to the secretary of state’s office.

So for Galvin the stage was set. The bill he asked Election Laws cochair Senator Barry Finegold to file would extend all of those options:

▪ Make no-excuse voting available for all elections, allowing any mailed ballot to be counted if postmarked by Election Day and received within three days of the election.

▪ Authorize early voting for seven days before a primary (or preliminary) and 14 days before a general election.

▪ Allow Election Day voter registration for those who can produce any one of a number of proofs of residence — from a Massachusetts driver’s license to a utility bill to a student fee statement.

Same-day voter registration is perhaps the only new and somewhat controversial part of the bill with some voting rights advocates pushing to allow registration during early voting days rather than just on Election Day. But that is a dispute around the margins. And with at least 20 other states and the District of Columbia having same-day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, its time has surely come. (Only two of those states, by the way, offer registration during some early voting days.)


But Galvin has made it clear that the issue shouldn’t be a deal breaker in making sure the reforms now in place stay in place — certainly for the upcoming municipal elections and into the future. A stopgap measure to cover elections through the end of the year should certainly be part of the Legislature’s post-pandemic emergency extension bill, due for consideration as early as next week.

The right to vote early and vote by mail may not be as much fun as outdoor dining — already included in the bill — but it is far more critical to the state’s political well-being.

That, of course, is only a beginning. Making those voting rights reforms part of the “new normal” — and expanding on them — will indeed make Massachusetts a beacon of hope to people in states where those hopes have grown ever dimmer.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.