One of the most interesting — and potentially transformative — Boston elections is just around the Labor Day corner. But for those who may have newly arrived in town or those just awaking to the reality of the hottest of mayoral races but didn’t register to vote by last week’s deadline, well, they’ll have to sit this one out. (Those wanting to vote in the Nov. 2 final will have until Oct. 13 to register.)
That long lead time is as unfortunate as it is unnecessary. Election Day voter registration is no longer some pie-in-the-sky radical idea — technological advances have helped make it not only possible but also nearly foolproof. And if the Massachusetts Legislature didn’t work at its usual glacial pace, it could have already been the law here.
Not another election cycle should go by before Massachusetts joins 20 other states and the District of Columbia in offering Election Day registration. But that’s only one of several essential election reforms awaiting passage when lawmakers return from their summer recess.
The pandemic provided the impetus for state lawmakers to finally enact a slew of long-overdue election reforms in time for the 2020 presidential election, including no-excuse mail-in voting and extending early voting for primary elections. If ever there was a pilot program for election reform, that was it. Nearly half of all voters cast mail-in ballots for the primary, 42 percent voted by mail in the general election, and 23 percent cast early in-person votes.
But the reforms enacted then were only temporary — for what most assumed would be the duration of the pandemic. The law was hurriedly extended at the end of July to allow mail-in and expanded in-person early voting through Dec. 15 — long enough to cover Boston’s primary and general election and municipal elections elsewhere in the state. But it didn’t address the issue of Election Day registration.
At about the same time, however, the Joint Committee on Election Laws advanced the so-called VOTES (Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity and Security) Act, by a 14-3 vote (the three dissenters were the committee’s Republican members). The sweeping election reform bill was introduced by Senate majority leader Cindy Creem and supported by more than 100 members of the House and Senate.
It would make no-excuse mail-in voting permanent, require early voting options for at least two weeks before regular state elections and one week before primaries, and implement same-day voter registration. It would also require the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, which helps states keep accurate voting rolls.
Some 30 states plus the District of Columbia have joined the center, which in turn provides member states with reports showing “voters who have moved out of state, voters who have died, duplicate registrations in the same state, and individuals who are potentially eligible to vote but not yet registered.”
There will, of course, be debate around some of the provisions, like that calling for same-day registration during early voting days — something adopted by only two other states. But there should be little disagreement around its overall aims.
The bill is currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“We’re optimistic that something will happen this year,” Secretary of State Bill Galvin said in an interview. “But there is an urgency to get this done.”
A special election for the seat being vacated by Republican Representative Brad Hill, now set for Nov. 30, will just barely come in under the existing temporary rules. By this time next year, the battle for governor and other state offices will be well underway.
“Besides, with so many states now trying to restrict voter access, why not be a shining example to the rest of the country,” Galvin added.
Why not, indeed.
With far more contentious issues like redistricting and the appropriation of billions of dollars in federal relief funds also still pending on Beacon Hill, voting reform should not be left to languish until those waning days of the legislative session. Its time is now.
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