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Senate delays vote on same-day registration

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

If the measure passes in time, its impact on presidential voting could be significant, according to a recent report by the research and advocacy organization Demos. The New York-based group’s report estimates that the state would see an increase of about 5 percent in overall voter participation and larger boosts in participation among African Americans, Hispanics and young people — three demographics that have turned out in high numbers throughout the primary season.

It is also expected to help prospective voters in low-income communities, where underdeveloped civic awareness infrastructures and financial stresses prevent many citizens from registering prior to Election Day.

“Sometimes, what happens is that people don’t have the time to register,” said state Rep. Willie Mae Allen, who supported the bill in the House. For citizens facing the daily pressures of low-income jobs and difficult lifestyles, she said, registering to vote may not be a top priority. As a result, they are often left out of the political process.

“These people should be given the right to vote,” she said.

Allen is a member of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, which reported the bill favorably and referred it to the Ways and Means Committee in February.

“I joined that committee primarily because of the low voter turnout we get in our community,” Allen said, adding that in past elections, “many more people would have voted had there been Election Day registration.”

Avi Green, director of the statewide voting advocacy organization MassVOTE, echoed Allen’s sentiments, estimating that the state would have seen 200,000 more votes in the 2004 presidential election had the measure been in place.

“It would be a huge step forward,” he said.

Green said the bill has a special significance to minority and low-income populations, two demographics that have historically turned out in low numbers.

“We know that the voting rates in communities of color have been steadily going up in Boston and other parts of the state, but they still haven’t caught up,” Green said.

“I think that’s why you’ve had a lot of leadership from representatives of color on this bill,” he added, citing Fox, Allen and state Rep. Marie St. Fleur as examples. “They’ve really been important leaders on this.”

Green said the problem stems, in part, from a historical legacy of race-based voting restrictions aimed at keeping minority groups away from the ballot box.

“At one point, registration was about exclusion: ‘Let’s make sure that it’s only white people who vote,’ or ‘Let’s make sure that it’s only men,’” he said. “Now, that’s changed.”

The bill’s future has been in question for some time, and it appeared to be stalled until last week’s changes brought it out of committee in the first concrete action related to the measure since the spring. The revised draft was set to go to a vote on July 17, but was tabled by a motion from Senate Republicans, and the vote was postponed.

A representative from the office of state Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, said no more procedural snags were expected and that the measure would likely go to a vote this week. With Tuesday’s new motion to table the bill now pending, however, it is unclear whether it will see action before the end of the month.

“We’re hoping and praying that it comes up before we recess,” Allen said.