A Suffolk Superior Court judge on Monday ruled unconstitutional a state law that forbids people from voting in an election unless they have registered 20 days beforehand. The law denies qualified citizens their right to vote, Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled. In a lawsuit filed last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Chelsea Collaborative, a social services nonprofit, and MassVOTE, a nonprofit that registers people to vote, argued that the law is “unnecessary and arbitrary” and that it excluded thousands of citizens from voting. Wilkins agreed, rejecting the state’s claim that removing the deadline would impose overly burdensome duties on local election officials.
… The ruling is a significant one and could influence election law in other states, according to Justin Levitt, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “The rationale is thought out in great detail,” Levitt said. “It’s quite a lot of analysis, and I suspect that other courts in other states may well look to this as persuasive in how they might interpret their own constitution.”
Levitt, who focused on voting rights as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, said it is “tough to tell” whether the state’s appeal has a chance at success, but noted that Wilkins went to great lengths to carefully detail his reasoning in his 92-page ruling.
“The judge was very careful. The court pointed to the fact that early voting starts five days after the registration deadline,” he said. “He showed that the state actually showed the ability to [prepare voter rolls] in five days, not 20.”