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MA Senate Passes Bill Allowing Early Voting

Massachusetts residents would be able to cast ballots up to 10 days before an election and register to vote on Election Day under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the Massachusetts Senate Thursday. 

The bill, which passed on a 37-1 vote, would allow early voting in all state and federal elections and primaries. It expands upon a similar House bill approved last year that would let voters cast ballots up to two weeks before a presidential election. Democratic state Senator Barry Finegold of the Second Essex and Middlesex district was the bill’s lead sponsor.

“It’s all about getting people more opportunity to participate in the process,” said Finegold.

Jim Bronson heads the Berkshire GOP. He says the bill has the potential to increase voter turnout, but is concerned that special interest groups would have more opportunity to push people to the polls.

“Potentially though is that we’re coercing people to go vote, ‘Hey let’s go on Tuesday, if not let’s on Wednesday, if not let’s go on Friday’ or what have you,” Bronson said. “It’s potentially causing a situation where you have some special interest group of any color skewing a vote in a way that wouldn’t normally happen.”

The bill also would let voters register online and at the polling places on Election Day. The overwhelmingly Democratic Senate rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have required voters to produce an ID or sign an affidavit saying they are eligible to vote before casting their ballot. Republican Robert Hedlund, of Weymouth, was the lone Senator to vote against the bill. While he says he supports the overall concept of early voting, he expressed concerns with the increased potential for voter fraud.

“We’ve had lots of documented examples of voter fraud throughout the commonwealth and the nation,” Hedlund said. “This was an attempt to maintain, restore and ensure integrity in our voting process and system, especially at a time when we’re opening it up to the potential of more fraud with same day voter registration.”

Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of the Berkshires says while the current system isn’t perfect, voter fraud has not been a major issue.

“Those have been few and far between,” Downing said. “When they have come up, we have caught them with our current laws and protections in place.”

Finegold also says there would additional costs associated with the ID provision. Hedlund raised concerns over a provision that would not require people who move to notify their new city or town clerk. Instead, clerks would use data from the U.S. Postal Service and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“We’re going to rely on the Postal Service for data to update voter lists?” Hedlund asked. “I think that opens the door to a lot of mistakes, a lot of confusion and a lot of inaccuracy.”

Finegold, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws, says the idea is to utilize data collection systems already in place.

“Basically we have all these systems that keep up to date with where you’re living and why not try to use these systems that are already in place to have the most accurate information about where people are voting,” said Finegold.

In addition, the Senate bill would place voters on the inactive list only after they haven’t voted in two consecutive federal elections and not responded to a notice. Currently, voters can be placed on the inactive list for not filling out an annual census. The bill also allows the preregistration of 16-year-olds. More than 30 other states allow some form of early voting and more than a dozen offer online registration. The House and Senate will have to agree on a single version of the bill before sending it to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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