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Voter rights activists pin hopes on Mass. Senate

Martin Desmarais | 12/11/2013, 11:17 a.m.

Voter rights activists are hoping the Massachusetts Senate will pass electoral reforms next year after the House approved online registration and early voting measures.

The legislation approved by the House now goes to the Senate when it comes back in session in January. The bill calls for voters to be able to vote up to 11 days ahead of the traditional Tuesday Election Day in presidential elections and allows for online registration in addition to the traditional paper methods of registration.

Early voting is viewed as a major win by voter advocates, who say it can increase voter participation — the holy grail of voting reform.

“I think it will have a great impact,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE. “Can you imagine having 11 days to vote instead of one day, a Tuesday — a work day?”

“I think early voting would increase voter turnout tremendously.”

Clyburn Crawford views online registration as a common sense measure to make it easier for voters to register in a world in which doing things online has become second nature — and also something that can be a big boost in attracting younger voters to the political process.

“Young people do everything online. That is what we love about the online voter registration. It only makes sense,” Clyburn Crawford said.

However, Clyburn Crawford emphasized that MassVOTE believes the voter registration passed by the House can be much more comprehensive and she has high hopes that the Senate will add additional measures to it.

In particular, she says early voter registration should be for all elections, not just presidential elections, and the current House bill only has early voting during work hours, which she would like to see extended to evenings and even weekends.

MassVOTE is also pushing for the Senate to add pre-registration to the legislation. Pre-registration would allow for teens ages 16-17 to enter the voting registration system prior to turning 18. Clyburn Crawford said this is important because the teens could be pre-registered through high school programs when they are in school, which would likely increase the number of younger voters entering the system and turning out to the polls later after they turn 18. She added that this would introduce them to the election system and help establish a pattern of involvement with voting that would continue into the future.

“We consider this a bill that has great reforms in it such as online voter registration, but still a watered down bill,” said Clyburn Crawford. “We want them to pass a really substantial and comprehensive bill … We think this is the best opportunity to do that.

“It is a good thing so far. We just want it to be strengthened. If you are going to pass an election reform bill, why not make it substantial?”

One of the reasons Clyburn Crawford has confidence in the Senate to approve a more comprehensive bill is because it has already introduced prior legislation that has included the additional reforms MassVOTE wants.