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Equity advocates push for same-day voter registration in final reform bill

The Massachusetts State House. A six-member conference committee has to negotiate House and Senate versions of a state voting reform bill. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House. A six-member conference committee has to negotiate House and Senate versions of a state voting reform bill. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Supporters of same-day registration in Massachusetts cast the measure as a "common sense" compromise lawmakers can include in an omnibus voting reform bill currently under consideration on Beacon Hill.

The Legislature has agreed they need to move forward with voting reform updates this session, with each branch passing its own version of the VOTES Act. They have found common ground on codifying mail-in voting and expanded early voting, but voter registration rules have become a flashpoint in debate during work on the bill.

At a press conference outside the State House Monday afternoon, members of the Election Modernization Coalition — a group that includes Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, and ACLU Massachusetts — said Election Day registration would increase voter turnout in communities of color.

"There are people that live in deep poverty that are working two or three jobs, that are moving a lot because of housing instability, and other reasons, health reasons, their registration lapses," Rep. Nika Elugardo said. "This is an equity provision because it makes it possible for all of those people to vote."

The Election Day or same-day registration reforms are among the matters that a six-member conference committee negotiating House and Senate versions of the voting reform bill will have to work out. The committee includes Reps. Michael Moran, Dan Ryan, and Shawn Dooley, and Sens. Barry Finegold, Cynthia Creem, and Ryan Fattman.

The House passed its iteration of the VOTES Act on Jan. 27 when the House turned aside a push to include same-day and Election Day registration. Instead, House Democrats voted to add a requirement that Secretary of State William Galvin study potential implementation of same-day registration and any associated costs, a study that Galvin says is not needed.

The language was included in an amendment — passed 93-64 — sponsored by Moran which took the place of a different amendment from Elugardo that would have instituted Election Day registration. The study amendment supporters noted concerns aired by municipal clerks and an array of existing voter registration opportunities.

The Senate voted 36-3 in October to pass a voting reform bill that includes same-day registration. Under the bill, residents could register and vote on the same day throughout the state's early voting period and on Election Day.

For Common Cause Executive Director Geoff Foster, provisions in both bills like voting by mail, early voting, and jail-based voting are "very strong" but more is needed to make voting equitable for all residents.

"We know that the real game-changer, the real equity piece, the heart of the VOTES Act is Election Day registration," Foster said. "We're here today to make a very direct ask for the conferees from the House and Senate who are working on the VOTES Act, that they restore a compromise of Election Day registration into the final bill."

Massachusetts Voter Table Executive Director Beth Huang asked people to imagine a single mom who, because of rising housing and health care costs, has to move to a new apartment.

The mom works an hourly job, goes to her old polling location to cast a ballot, and is turned away because her information is out of date. That voter, Huang said, is most likely going to get on a bus and head to work rather than travel to a different polling location.

"We want that voter to be able to cast a ballot ... on Election Day," she said. "That's why we need Election Day registration so that voters, especially those often pushed to the margins, can go to their new polling location on Election Day, register, and cast a ballot."

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