The House voted 141-10 Wednesday to approve legislation authorizing early voting in presidential elections and online registration in Massachusetts, major changes that supporters claimed will broaden voter engagement. House Election Laws Committee Rep. James Murphy (D-Weymouth) said the panel had heard “loud and clear” the call for reforms to expand access to voting. The bill also calls for municipal clerk training and creates task forces on implementation of election audits and to study early voting following its implementation in the 2016 election. “It is an important moment in the history of election laws and for voting here in the Commonwealth,” said Murphy, who predicted early voting and online registration would lead to shorter lines at the polls on Election Day. Rep. Linda Campbell (D-Methuen) called the bill’s passage a “long time coming” and predicted the changes, if enacted into law, would prove particularly useful to individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and people who travel abroad for business. Election reform advocates say 19 states allow online voter registration and early voting is available in 32 states.
Before passing the bill (H 3772), the House voted 116-36 for an amendment to study the idea of requiring voter identification as part of the early voting process.
The study vote precluded a vote on an ID amendment offered by House Republicans, who argued that the new early voting provision would present challenges, compounded by the introduction of online voter registration.
Lawmakers on both sides of the voter ID amendment held up voting as a sacred right and a fundamental part of democracy, as Rep. Steve Walsh, a Lynn Democrat, described the GOP proposal as “voter suppression lite.”
Though Rep. Vinny DeMacedo’s amendment allowed for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue identification free of charge to individuals found to be indigent, opponents argued that the ID requirement could disenfranchise some voters in Massachusetts.
Rep. Marc Lombardo noted photo ID is required to see R-rated movies, take an Amtrak train, or to buy spray paint, cigarettes or alcohol. He said that in order to practice his Second Amendment rights, he had to not only present ID, but also had to submit his fingerprints and go through a background check.
Rep. Anne-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat, said she is not required to show ID before driving, or before using her firearm but only when she is suspected of wrongdoing.