Early Voting and Other Election Reforms Advance at Statehouse

An election reform bill that would make significant changes to voting practices in Massachusetts is moving closer to reality.

Last week, the Mass. House of Representatives approved a compromise bill, months in the making, that would allow changes including early voting and online voter registration. At deadline, a vote in the Senate was pending. The changes would go in effect with the 2016 election.

Under the bill, voters would be allowed to register online through a system that would compare their electronic registration form with data already on file with the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles. Backers of online registration argue that the practice, which is already on the books in almost half the states, would increase registration rates, save money and reduce paper waste.

In addition, the bill would allow voting during the 11 days preceding the general Election Day (but not primaries), by mail or at designated voting sites. While the proposed law mandates that in-person early voting take place during the normal business hours of town and city clerks’ offices, a provision allows municipalities that choose so to offer early voting outside of regular hours, including on weekends. Thirty-two states already allow early voting, according to the Election Modernization Coalition. That coalition, made up of 45 groups including the Mass. ACLU, Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters and MASSPIRG, championed the reform efforts.

The bill also puts in place post-election audits of voting machines to check their accuracy and allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. (A proposal that would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections in Lowell was scrapped from the final version.) Finally, it creates an elections task force to examine the costs and effects of the reforms.

The compromise bill lacks one provision that reformers had hoped to see included: Election Day registration, which supporters say would increase dramatically voter turnout. Some municipal elections officials had opposed that provision, saying their offices lacked the resources to handle registrations on Election Day.

Ben Wright, executive director of Progressive Massachusetts, a member of the Election Modernization Coalition, expressed “a little bit of a disappointment” that same-day registration wasn’t included in the compromise bill. Nevertheless, he called the resulting proposal “a great bill” and said he was pleased to see it move forward after so many years of work—progress he attributed to the strong coalition of grassroots organizations behind it and the support of state Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws Committee, who led the effort to reconcile earlier House and Senate versions of the bill. “With all the obstacles to getting bills passed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you really need a tireless champ up there,” Wright said.

And, Wright added, “We look forward to coming back to it next year and working on same-day registration.”•


Remembering Sanctuary City

In the spring of 2004, a group of homeless people in Springfield, working with Arise for Social Justice, established a tent city—they called it Sanctuary City—because they felt the city’s emergency housing options were inadequate and unsafe. The community, which operated under an informal set of rules established by the residents, started on the lawn of St. Michael’s Cathedral before moving to a plot of land owned by Open Pantry Community Services. It stayed up until that November, when the cold weather set in. Last week, former residents and their allies gathered to mark Sanctuary City’s 10th anniversary and to call for better shelter and affordable housing options.•


By the Numbers

$49.2 million The total annual farm sales in Hampshire County in 2012, according to the recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture Census. That’s up from $38.6 million in 2007.


$55 million Farm sales in Franklin County in 2012, down from $58.5 million in 2007.


$23.6 million Farm sales in Hampden County in 2012, down from $25.7 million in 2007.


221 The number of Hampshire County farms that sell directly to consumers, up from 160 in 2007.


67 The number of CSA farms in Hampshire, up from 20 in 2007.


141 The total number of CSA farms in the three Valley counties.


60 The number of dairy farms in the three counties, down from 104 in 2007.


The USDA’s full report can be found at www.agcensus.usda.gov.


Worth Quoting

“Millennials have grown up in a world where you are never forced to see, hear or read anything that you haven’t personally selected. [Seven thousand] TV channels, a DVR to skip commercials, millions of websites—we have been able to curate our own little worlds using technology, wherein nothing unpleasant or offensive can creep in. So when we’re forced to sit through a commercial or, heaven forbid, listen to someone talk who isn’t Mary-freakin’-Poppins, we can’t handle it.

“The entire point of college is to be exposed to different things: Different types of people, different ideas—and maybe some of those people will hail from organizations that negatively impacted poor countries, or maybe they were partly responsible for a war that ate up the country’s resources and resulted in human rights abuses and lots of needless death. But if, at the end of your time as an undergrad, you haven’t learned that oftentimes you find great wisdom in shitty people, or just that there might be some value in hearing what someone you don’t like or respect might have to say, what on earth have you learned?”—Columnist Olivia Nuzzi, writing on the Daily Beast about the recent spate of college commencement speakers—including, at Smith College, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde—who’ve pulled out in response to student objections.