The Boston Foundation and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley supported voting reforms in a joint letter to state legislators. With update!

Supporting the VOTES Act

TBF and the United Way urged legislators to pass election reforms—and they did.

June 23, 2022

A mostly happy update to this post: On June 22, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed the “VOTES Act” into law in Massachusetts!

The bill—sponsored by State Representative John Lawn and Senator Cindy Creem, approved by the legislature, and brought to the Governor as An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security—represents the largest expansion of voting access in the Commonwealth in years. It will make several permanent changes to Massachusetts’ election laws, including allowing voters to vote by mail without an excuse; expanding early voting options; making sure that eligible voters who are incarcerated are able to request a mail ballot and vote; ensuring that the Commonwealth joins the 30-state Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to keep voter registration rolls up to date; and more. The bill also reduces the voter registration deadline prior to an election from 20 days to 10.

That last bit is where the “mostly happy” falls. The Boston Foundation and others had advocated for same-day or Election Day registration—a measure already in place in 19 other states and D.C.—but, as Masslive reports, Baker signed a compromise version of the bill reached after months of negotiations between Senate and House members, which, while shortening the time between registration and election, omits same-day registration.

Still, a great day for Mass voters, who will retain some of the conveniences put in place by the pandemic. Now time to get out the vote!

This was the original April 7, 2022, post.

The Boston Foundation and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley penned a joint letter to the conference committee that is now deciding whether to amend and advance the bill codifying into law some of the temporary voting modifications made during the pandemic. The letter, shared below, particularly urged same day registration, and was undersigned by 47 supporting organizations.

A stronger democracy, the pursuit of equity, and a commitment to inclusion make Boston a better place to live, work, and visit. With these priorities in mind, we write to request that you include Election Day Registration (EDR) in the final version of the VOTES Act.

The need for EDR in Boston is great. Roughly 65 percent of Bostonians are renters, and therefore change their addresses at a higher rate than homeowners. According to the 2020 census, 20 percent of Bostonians (about 135,000 people) changed their address within one year alone. In order to vote, tens of thousands of these people need to update their voter registration, and it's often not until they go to vote that they become aware of this administrative barrier. Due to the registration deadline, it's too late and they aren't able to cast a ballot that counts, an unnecessary limitation to their fundamental right to vote.

We see the scope of need clearly reflected in the number of rejected provisional ballots in recent elections. In the 2020 general election, 1,412 provisional ballots were issued in Boston, of which 731 were rejected. Seven hundred and thirty-one citizens who believed they were registered to vote did not cast a ballot that was counted. Boston accounts for one third of all provisional ballots issued statewide that election. In reality, the scope of the problem is even larger because many voters who are told to fill out a provisional ballot are discouraged and leave without voting. Furthermore, many others don't even make it to their polling location because they know their vote will not be counted. Never again should an otherwise eligible voter go to their polling place on Election Day and not be able to cast a vote.

Election Day Registration is also critical as a matter of equity. Recent research shows that EDR could lead to an increase in Black and Latino voter turnout as high as 17 percent. Given that 24 percent of Boston's population identifies as Black and 20 percent identifies as Latino/Hispanic, we cannot emphasize enough how much EDR would benefit our collective pursuit of equity and inclusion.

If Election Day Registration were available in Boston, we'd see an increase in voter turnout, an increase in the confidence that people have in the democratic process, and an increase in civic engagement throughout every neighborhood in Boston.

As representatives of our great city, we ask you to lead on voting rights and equity for all Bostonians by including Election Day Registration in the final version of the VOTES Act.