Today marks the beginning of a Suffolk Superior Court trial in Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin, a lawsuit challenging Massachusetts' voter registration cutoff law. The law arbitrarily denies citizens their fundamental right to vote by barring otherwise eligible voters from casting their ballots unless they register at least 20 days before Election Day. The ACLU of Massachusetts, along with the national ACLU Voting Rights Project and the law firm Ropes & Gray LLP, filed the suit on behalf of the Chelsea Collaborative, MassVOTE, and certain individual registered voters.
"What is the issue the ACLU has with the current law? The concern is that the 20-day deadline is completely arbitrary and disenfranchises thousands of voters every election who are not able to vote because they did not register before that 20-day registration cutoff. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of people, a lot of media outlets and a lot of campaigns actually emphasis their outreach initiatives within the last week or so before the election — and that’s well after the cutoff.
Who is affected by the deadline? There's a particular concern for communities that are disproportionately impacted by this registration deadline: low-income people, elderly people, students, younger people and people of color.
There are a whole host of reasons why people would miss a deadline that is 20 days out from election. It’s not so much a statement on their commitment to democracy, but more a statement about the barriers that exist because of the complications of people's lives, and as a democracy we should be doing our best to facilitate access to the polls for as many eligible people as possible.
What is the ACLU’s hope for this trial? This lawsuit is to challenge the constitutionality of the arbitrary 20-day voter registration cutoff. This is a bench trial, meaning a judge is hearing the case, so our hope is that judge declares that the 20-day voter registration cutoff is unconstitutional. If the judge does that, then the ball is in court of the legislators to come up with a new registration deadline.