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Senate delays vote on same-day registration

Matt Skibinski | 7/23/2008, 5:33 a.m.

With formal legislative sessions set to end in just days, local lawmakers are leading an 11th-hour effort to revive a bill, stalled in the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee since February, that could give thousands of Massachusetts citizens the chance to register and vote on Election Day.

But time is running out for the measure. In order for the change to have the greatest possible effect, voting rights advocates say, the bill should be implemented before the 2008 presidential election — meaning it must pass the state Senate before the current legislative session ends this month.

As of press time, the bill had yet to see a vote on the floor, despite passing through committee last week.

“We’re trying to beat the clock down here,” said state Rep. Gloria Fox, who sponsored the accompanying House bill on the matter. “There has been some hold-up on the Senate side on Election Day registration.”

Senate bill no. 2807, a scaled-back version of the original bill sponsored by Fox in the House and state Sen. Cynthia Creem in the Senate, would require all voting districts in the state to offer at least one location at which voters who are not registered to vote — or who have moved to a new district since their last registration — could cast their ballots on Election Day.

The original bill sought to allow hopeful voters to register at any ballot location in the state. But critics argue that such a move would place a financial burden on many municipalities.

Fox said the change “gives some relief to cities and towns that can’t afford to get it up and running between now and the general election,” and is a compromise that the bill’s proponents were ultimately willing to make.

“It’s kind of controversial in that it sort of breaks up a very good bill,” she said. “But the whole issue around cost is one that has been really holding things up on the Senate side, and I believe that the speaker [of the House, Salvatore F. DiMasi] has a problem as well with the cost of it.”

On the Senate floor on Tuesday, state Sen. Bruce Tarr moved to postpone a vote on the bill, the second such motion since the bill passed committee last week, to allow state auditors to assess whether sufficient funding exists to support the measure. Tarr said that the current bill’s mandate on cities and towns violates a provision in Massachusetts General Law that requires such mandates to be accompanied by sufficient funding.

State Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., the chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws and one of the bill’s chief proponents, argued that a combination of money in the state budget and federal aid would sufficiently cover the scaled-back bill’s costs. Augustus said he rejects “any suggestion that we can’t afford to have more people vote, even though we know we have a process that has worked in other states and could work in this state.”