At a time when some states are restricting access to the polls, following the demise of the Voting Rights Act, Massachusetts is moving to empower voters. Last week, the state Senate agreed to reforms that hold the potential to increase participation in elections and modernize how voting takes place. The bill goes now to a conference committee with representatives of both the Senate and House, whose members have passed similar legislation. We think state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, the Senate’s majority leader and future president, is right to declare that his chamber’s vote last Thursday represents the most significant election reform in two decades. As with the “motor voter” legislation in the early 1990s, which allowed voters to sign up through the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the new legislation is designed to streamline and simplify the process of voting.
By opening the process, these reforms can bring more people into the essential decisions citizens make about how their state and local communities are led.
We urge the conferees to bring the best elements of both bills together swiftly and enact these democratic gains.
One of the most meaningful reforms is to allow an eligible voter to come to the polls on Election Day, perhaps awakened to the significance of the date by news coverage or political rallies, and register on the spot. Maine, New Hampshire and seven other states already allow that. In the Internet age, where eligibility can be verified immediately, there is no longer any need to require voters to register at least 20 days ahead of Election Day.