In the Massachusetts 2013 special election, voter turnout statewide marked a record low at only 27 percent. While special elections typically struggle to attract voter interest, last year was particularly bad. The state also saw declining turnout numbers in the last major national election as well.
State lawmakers decided to address this lagging participation by passing a series of campaign reforms last week. These measures are intended to boost turnout and make democracy more accessible to Bay State voters.
The bill includes the following provisions:
Online Voter Registration: This provision will allow voters to register online. The Brennan Center for Justice argues that online voting is cost-effective, more accurate, and increases voter registration rates. This measure is also projected to target younger voters who move often and tend to be tech savvy. This will be available in August 2015.
Early Voting: Now voters will be able to cast their ballots up to 11 business days before the general election. This does not include primary or special elections. States that already have early voting find that it reduces stress on the voting system on Election Day, which translates to shorts lines, improves poll worker performances, allows early identification and correction of registration errors, and provides greater access to voting.
Pre-Registration for 16 and 17 year olds: Any time after state citizens turn 16, they are eligible to turn in their pre-registration forms. Pre-registration is meant to encourage voting among young people -- the demographic group that typically has the lowest turnout rates.
Public Audit of Elections: The legislation creates an online portal to check voter registration status and allow post-election audits after presidential elections. As elections have moved toward electronic voting systems, well-designed audits are seen as a way to mitigate the threat of error.
The Massachusetts House passed the law 145-5, and the Senate was unanimous in its approval. Many state citizens stood behind these measures, believing that Massachusetts has some of the most outdated voting laws in the nation.
Around the country, places like Colorado are grappling with how to reform elections to overcome partisan primaries and make democracy more accessible. In Massachusetts, as Sara Brady, MassVOTE policy director and a major force behind the reform advocacy, said:
“At a time when voting rights are under attack across the country, it’s great to see the legislature take a stand to expand access to voting. ”
Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the bill into law. These reforms would go into effect for the 2016 presidential elections.