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Mass. Senate legislation a victory for electoral reform coalition

Yawu Miller | 1/23/2014, 6 a.m.
The Massachusetts Senate approved electoral reform measures aimed at making it easier to vote, register to vote and monitor the ...
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz

The Massachusetts Senate approved electoral reform measures aimed at making it easier to vote, register to vote and monitor the accuracy of towns’ voting systems.

The reforms include measures allowing early voting in state and federal primary elections, Election Day registration and automatic re-registration of voters when they move within Massachusetts.

“The bill passed by the Senate takes important strides toward a more inclusive Commonwealth, removing unnecessary barriers to the ballot box,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz in a statement.

The legislation brings voter rights activists closer to their goal of modernizing the Massachusetts voting system, much of which has been shaped by the limitations of 19th and 20th century technology.

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, an organization that has been leading voter reform efforts in Massachusetts for more than 10 years, says that modernizing the state’s electoral system will help increase voter participation.

“We are one step closer to achieving our goal of full access for citizen participation in the electoral process in Massachusetts,” she said.

“The goal is higher turnout,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. “Higher turnout is critical.”

Under the new legislation, voters will be able to cast ballots in state and federal primaries up to 10 days prior to an election day and will be able to register online through an online database.

Chang-Diaz added amendments to the legislation giving Massachusetts residents the right to register and cast a ballot on an election day and to remain registered to vote after moving from one address to another within Massachusetts. She also inserted an amendment mandating post-election audits, where the state would be required to randomly check voting machines for accuracy after each election and an amendment ending the practice of counting prisoners as residents of the electoral district where they are incarcerated.

Another provision in the legislation is a measure allowing 16- and 17-year-old state residents to pre-register to vote so that they will be able to do so as soon as they turn 18.

The House voted on a similar version of the bill in December. The bill will go to a House and Senate conference committee before it goes to the governor.

Dorcena Forry cautioned that the measures alone will not produce higher turnout. Voters have to be motivated to vote, she said.

“We know that when communities of color come out in elections, it gets results,” she said. “We have to do a better job getting people out to vote.”