Massachusetts election reform bill emerges from negotiations without same-day voter registration provision –

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka said she hoped same-day voter registration would be included in the compromise version of the VOTES Act. Alison Kuznitz/MassLive
A Massachusetts elections reform bill codifying pandemic-era allowances, including no-excuse voting by mail and expanded early voting, has finally emerged from a conference committee — without its most contentious provision.
Bay Staters still will not be allowed to register to vote on Election Day, based on the comprise agreement disclosed Wednesday. But in recent months, state senators and voting rights activists have pushed for same-day voter registration to bolster equity and access, particularly for marginalized communities across Massachusetts.
“Although I am disappointed same-day registration was not included in the final bill, even with the Senate offering multiple compromise approaches, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to file legislation on the subject going forward,” Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Unlike the Senate, the House had opposed same-day voter registration. Nineteen states — including Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine — have enacted Election Day registration, plus Washington, D.C., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The conference committee’s announcement, shared by Sen. Barry Finegold’s office, came hours after Secretary of State William Galvin warned Wednesday morning that Bay Staters could experience voting disruptions if the impasse surrounding the VOTES Act persisted.
The Senate plans to tackle the compromise bill in session Thursday, Finegold told MassLive.
The legislation was stalled in conference committee for more than four months, as House and Senate members navigated a controversial same-day voter registration provision. But both chambers had agreed on voting by mail, a popular option that accounted for nearly 48% of all ballots cast in the 2020 state primaries, Galvin’s office said.
“In 2020, we had record-breaking voter turnout in the primary and the election, thanks in large part to our efforts to make sure voters could cast their ballots safely and conveniently,” Galvin said in a statement Wednesday, before the conference committee reached its agreement. “With less than 3 months to go before our next statewide election, urgent action is needed so that voters can make a plan to vote, request their ballots, and receive their ballots in a timely manner.”
Earlier Wednesday, Senate President Karen Spilka told MassLive that an agreement was imminent. Spilka said she hoped same-day voter registration would be included in the final bill.
The Ashland Democrat similarly expressed support for a more limited election-day voter registration option, which advocates have framed as a key compromise the conference committee should pursue, as she said Beacon Hill must “look at whatever would help improve our voting access.”
“I think that Massachusetts should be a leader in increasing voter access,” Spilka told MassLive outside the Massachusetts State House, where lawmakers gathered to raise a rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month. “This is the foundation of our democracy, and I’m hoping that we’re able to come to a compromise and include it (same-day voter registration) in some way.”
House Speaker Ron Mariano, meanwhile, pointed out that more flexible voting options weren’t available during spring municipal elections. That created an “interesting” situation, Mariano said, as the VOTES Act was pending and pandemic voting flexibilities expired.
“We’ve already had two or three local elections. I’ve never really heard another complaint about mail-in voting,” Mariano said.
Permanent mail-in voting is included in the latest iteration of the VOTES Act. Under the bill, the secretary of state’s office is required to send mail-in ballot applications and return postage to registered voters before presidential and state primaries, as well as biennial state elections, according to Finegold’s office.
Bay Staters will now face a shortened time frame to register to vote, with the compromise agreement slashing the 20-day deadline to 10 days before an election.
The legislation also calls for two weeks, including two weekends, of early voting for biennial state elections. There’s also one week, including one weekend, of early voting for presidential or state primaries.
Finegold, the Senate chair of the conference committee, told MassLive he anticipates same-day voter registration will be addressed in the next legislative session.
“When more people participate in democracy we all win,” Finegold said. “With everything going on in Ukraine and other states taking away voting rights, I think we should feel very good about this bill. In my view, it’s a great bill.”
Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, said the organization, in a bid for equity, plans to launch voter education initiatives to ensure communities of color and working-class neighborhoods take advantage of mail-in voting and early voting.
“Doubling our commitment to equity also means that we will continue our efforts to pass same-day registration in 2023,” Huang said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Same-day registration would reduce barriers to registration for renters, who are disproportionately people of color in a state with a widening racial homeownership gap.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Senate President Karen Spilka is from Ashland.
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