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Massachusetts Poised To Allow Early Voting, Online Registration

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Massachusetts, a state with a reputation for liberal politics, has what many consider outdated election laws.  That is about to change as state legislators have approved a compromise bill that includes provisions long sought by advocacy groups.

The legislation would authorize early voting up to 11 days before Election Day, create a system for online voter registration, allow 16-and 17-year- olds to pre-register to vote, and provide for postelection audits of randomly selected polling places to assure the accuracy of voting machines.

Voting rights groups have long pushed for many of the bill’s provisions according to Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

" The bill is really a terrific step for voters in Massachusetts. It will make it easier and more efficient to vote and encourage people to participate."

The Massachusetts House approved the bill 145-5.  The Senate vote was unanimous. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign it into law before he leaves on an overseas trade mission next week. Most of the changes, including early voting, would begin in the 2016 election.

People in Massachusetts would be permitted to vote up to 11 days before Election Day at city and town halls or other designated places. Wilmot said this should take the strain off polling places during high turnout elections.

"There were huge lines in the last presidential election. Some voters waited up to 3 hours in Boston. That is unacceptable. I think this legislation will significantly help that problem as well as many others."

Early voting is already available in 32 states. Online voter registration has passed in 23 states. 14 states have enacted pre-registration for 16-and 17-year- olds.  Twenty- six other states perform postelection audits to ensure the integrity of the voting process.

"We should be ahead of the curve and not woefully behind like we have been," said Wilmot.

There is debate over whether the changes will increase voter participation. Wilmot and the other activists had hoped to include Election Day registration, but it did not make it into the final bill.

Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola says the Massachusetts voting laws badly needed to catch up with what other states are doing.

" As far as running the elections, I don't think there will be any challenges. We will have an advantage with early voting. It gives us a chance to reach out to voters early on."

Oyola said the pre-registration of 16-and 17-year- olds could cause administrative problems.

"It is going to be difficult to keep on the ( voter registration ) rolls people who are going to be moving and going off to college, for example. I am not sure how that ( pre-registration) is going to work out."

The law will require newly registered voters to show proof of residence the first time they vote.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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