BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts House rejected a proposed amendment to a sweeping voting rights bill Thursday that would have let voters register and cast ballots on the same day.
Supporters of the measure said it would make it easier for residents — especially immigrants, younger people and those with busy lives — to vote. Instead of approving or rejecting the same-day registration amendment, House lawmakers voted 93-64 to send it back for further study — a move often used to avoid taking an up-or-down vote on an amendment.
Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven said Election Day registration would help expand the number of voters. “There is a great deal of evidence this will increase voter turnout,” she said. “This will overwhelmingly impact Black, brown, AAPI, immigrant and indigenous communities, low income communities and young people.” (AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.) Uyterhoeven, a Democrat representing Somerville, described the decision to send the issue off to be studied as “procedural games.”
Michael Moran, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said same- day registration is too complicated to approve without further study. “What this report would hopefully do is identity some of those challenges” including staffing levels and training, Moran said, pointing out the state has more than 1,200 polling locations and nearly 400 early voting spots.
The voting rights bill aims to write into Massachusetts law a series of early voting options that were temporarily adopted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation would allow for the broad use of voting by mail and expand in-person early voting options. Communities would be required to allow early voting during business hours and all weekends during the early voting period. The bill would also shorten the time before an election during which a resident can register to vote, from 20 days to 10, and mandate that incarcerated people be informed about their voting rights.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley called for the House to allow same-day voter registration, saying in a press release that “arbitrary voter registration deadlines should not be a barrier to exercising the right to vote.”
Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, whose office oversees elections, also supports the change. The Massachusetts Town Clerks’ Association isn’t in favor but supports other elements of the legislation. “We strongly oppose provisions that would allow for same day/election day registration for 10 days in a row,” the group said in a statement, adding that it would be “nearly impossible” to manage without compromising the integrity of the election process.
Critics of the bill have argued that the state should instead return to pre-pandemic voting rules with an emphasis on in-person voting.
Democratic Rep. Daniel Ryan, the House chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, defended the legislation, saying overall it will help expand access to the ballot. “Will we deliver a perfect bill today? No,” Ryan said. “What we will walk out of here with today are permanent and now tested tools that made recent turnout in our state elections some of the highest in recent memory.”
A voting rights bill approved by the Massachusetts Senate last year included a change allowing same-day registration. The Senate bill would let individuals register to vote during early voting periods or on the day of a primary or election. Supporters said the change would bring Massachusetts in line with at least 20 other states and the District of Columbia that already allow same-day registration.
To expand in-person voting, the Senate bill would require two weeks — including two weekends — of early in-person voting for biennial state elections and any municipal elections held on the same day. It would allow one week — including one weekend — of early in-person voting for a presidential or state primary and any municipal elections held on the same day. Under the Senate bill cities and towns would also be allowed to opt-in to early voting in person for any local election not held with another election.