In May, 13 Asian and Hispanic residents of Lowell, Massachusetts, filed a voting rights lawsuit against the city government, alleging the at-large electoral system, in which the winner takes all, dilutes the minority vote and discriminates against the candidates from community of color running for office. The plaintiffs asked the federal court to rule that the city’s electoral system “violates Section 2 the Voting Rights Act” and for “the adoption of at least one district-based seat.” Since 1999, only four Asian and Hispanic candidates have been elected to the Lowell City Council, which is currently all white. The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Tuesday before the U.S. District Court in Boston. Lowell’s City Council filed a motion to dismiss in its first response to the residents’ lawsuit on Sept. 15.
Articles about voting issues in Massachusetts.
A proposed Massachusetts ballot question that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns from the prior six years to secure a spot on the state primary ballot cleared a key hurdle Wednesday. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey certified the question, saying it passes constitutional muster. That clears the question to go before voters next year, provided that supporters can collect the tens of thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The proposal is a reaction to Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns during the 2016 election. It would impose the same requirements for candidates for vice president.
Illinois this week became the tenth state to adopt an automatic voter registration law, and election reform advocates in Massachusetts are using the news to call on Bay State lawmakers to approve similar legislation. The law signed by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner after unanimous passage in the Legislature there “creates more accessible and secure elections by automatically registering voters unless they opt out of the program,” members of the Election Modernization Coalition said in a statement. “The new law will add roughly one million new eligible voters to the voter rolls,” said the statement, signed by Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts, Meryl Kessler of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Beth Huang of Mass Voter Table, Janet Domenitz of MASSPIRG, Cheryl Clyburn Crawford of MassVote and Jonathan Cohn of Progressive Massachusetts. “Similar laws in other states have been proven to increase turnout and make elections more secure by modernizing the voter registration process. It is a common sense and long overdue reform.”
Voting on Election Day usually entails some pre-planning, with registration required several days, if not weeks, ahead of time in most places. But now, following a court decision last week, Massachusetts is under pressure to join more than a dozen other states — including Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont — in allowing residents to register or reregister on Election day, and vote moments later. While the state’s top election official is raising concerns about costs, research shows that allowing same-day, or election-day, registration can bolster democracy by motivating voters to go to the polls. “While most other election reforms show pretty mixed effects, Election Day registration . . . has produced a wide consensus that in pretty much every study you find positive and increased voter turnout,” said Professor Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Efforts to streamline access to the ballot in Massachusetts are picking up steam after a court tossed out a state’s 20-day voter registration cutoff deadline. Voting right advocates say they’re renewing their push for two measures, including one that would let eligible voters register on Election Day and a second that would create a new automatic voter registration system. The rekindled interest comes after Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled Monday that the requirement that voters register at least 20 days before an election violates the Massachusetts Constitution and potentially disenfranchises thousands of would-be voters.
Secretary of State William Galvin plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that abolishes a voter registration deadline of 20 days before an election. Galvin said removing the 20-day cutoff could lead to more work for town clerks. He contends there is little demand for a change. “The 20-day period is something the clerks need to make sure the voting is accurate,” he said. “They made no showing that there were these thousands of people. … The idea that there’s this large group of people out there that’s suffering because of the 20-day period simply isn’t true.” On Monday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled that the cutoff was unconstitutional because it prevented thousands of voters from making it to the polls on election day. Wilkins used last year’s successful early voting as his main argument against the cutoff.
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.
Foxboro Town Clerk Robert Cutler grimaces when asked about same-day voter registration. “We’d definitely need an updated computer system,” Cutler says, “and the state hasn’t gotten that ready yet.” Same-day voter registration — citizens not yet signed up to vote being able to walk in to a polling place on Election Day and cast a ballot — is a possibility in Attleboro area communities as a result of a lawsuit by the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU claims that the 20-day deadline to register before the election is unconstitutional and unnecessary in these days of vastly improved technology.
Massachusetts: Suit challenging Massacusetts voter registration cutoff rule now in court | Associated Press
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state requirement that eligible voters register at least 20 days ahead of an election is being heard in court this week, with critics saying the law disenfranchises thousands of potential voters every election. Opponents of the cutoff — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts — are urging the court to declare the law unconstitutional and to order the state to end its enforcement, saying the law arbitrarily denies citizens their right to vote. Opponents are trying to bolster their argument by pointing to the state’s adoption of early voting last year. That change allowed voters to begin casting ballots on Oct. 24, just five days after the Oct. 19 registration cutoff. They say that undercuts the rationale that the state needs to end the registration of voters 20 days before Election Day.
The Fourth of July celebration is over, but the legal fireworks are just getting started in a trial that got underway Wednesday focusing on a key concern of the founding fathers – the right to vote. Jessie Rossman, one of the lawyers handling the case for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says as early as 1887, the state Supreme Court ruled that the cut-off for voter registration should occur as close to Election Day as possible. Rossman argues the technology is available to allow for same-day registration, so she says the current system is arbitrary and unconstitutional. “Every year, thousands of people in Massachusetts are disenfranchised and unable to vote as a result of this 20-day registration cut-off,” she states.