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Senate Passes Election Reform Bill to Streamline Voting Process, Boost Civic Engagement

January 16, 2014

The Senate on Thursday voted 37-1 to pass legislation reforming the election laws in the Commonwealth by authorizing early voting for state and federal elections and primaries, allowing residents to register to vote on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system. The bill also allows 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.

“This bill makes voting more accessible and more convenient, and it will ultimately allow a greater number of voices to be heard in the electoral process,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am pleased that we were able to take these important steps in increasing civic engagement and participation across the Commonwealth.”

Under this bill, Massachusetts would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia that allow early voting. Early voting would begin 10 business days before the election and end two days before the election. The first early voting period would occur in 2016. 

This bill would also place voters on the inactive list only after not voting in two consecutive federal elections and not responding to a notice from the city or town. Under current law, a voter can be placed on the inactive list for not filling out an annual census. If a voter does not vote in two additional federal elections, the voter will be removed from the voter list.

In addition to building an online voter registration system, the Secretary of State would create a secure online portal to allow voters to easily check their voter registration status and polling place.

The bill also allows a voter whose political designation does not list a candidate to receive a ballot for the political party of the voter’s choosing. The legal definition of “political designation” does not include the republican and democrat political parties.

The bill also does the following:

  • Allows 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections in Lowell if voters in Lowell approve the measure;
  • Eliminates the requirement of a check-out desk at polling places;
  • Requires municipal election officials to attend annual training given by the Secretary of State regarding applicable state and federal election laws;
  • Eliminates the requirement for a cancellation device on voting machines;
  • Clarifies that the police detail requirement at polling locations may not apply to early voting sites; and,
  • Establishes an elections task force to review early voting and expanding technology, including costs, administrative requirements, reductions in wait times on Election Day, the feasibility of additional early voting sites and hours, voter turnout, Election Day mobile alerts and online voting. 

The Legislature moved an amendment filed by President Murray to the Massachusetts Constitution to third reading in October that would also allow for early voting in the Commonwealth. Any constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature must be passed by two successive Legislatures and also requires approval by voters in Massachusetts before it can take effect.

The Senate bill and the House bill will now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the governor.


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