The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Massachusetts Supreme Court (SJC) to declare Massachusetts’ 20-day voter registration cutoff law unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, and Ropes & Gray LLP today filed a brief with the SJC in Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin on behalf of two voting rights organizations, Chelsea Collaborative and MassVote, and an individual voter. Initially filed in Suffolk Superior Court in November 2016, Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin challenges Massachusetts’ 20-day voter registration cutoff law, which routinely prohibits thousands of qualified voters from casting ballots.
The ACLU argues that the widespread disenfranchisement is unjustified given the significant technological advancements in the 25 years since the law was passed. Six months ago, the Suffolk Superior Court agreed in a 72-page opinion, concluding that the arbitrary voter registration cutoff law violated the Massachusetts Constitution. The ACLU says in today’s appellate brief that this judgment should be affirmed.
“The Massachusetts Constitution expressly protects an individual’s right to vote because it is the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “That is why we are urging the Court to affirm the Superior Court’s judgment and confirm its long-standing practice of subjecting laws that disenfranchise voters to the most exacting scrutiny.”
As the Superior Court found, the registration deadline is particularly damaging because it occurs at the exact moment when political debates, endorsements and media coverage are all increasing their attention on the election. As a result, voters’ interest in an election accelerates in the final 20-days before an election, but the voter registration cutoff law prevents voters who have not yet registered from translating this interest into action.
“The voter registration cutoff has barred thousands of would-be voters from casting ballots over the past three presidential elections,” said Kirsten Mayer, partner, Ropes & Gray and ACLU co-counsel. “While the state starting in 2016 enabled voters to cast early ballots just five days after the registration period closed, it told other voters that 20 days were required to make the preparations necessary for them to cast ballots. That amounts to disenfranchisement, a double standard, and the state has since demonstrated—by virtue of its own actions—that its 20-day cutoff is arbitrary.”
“Many states currently recognize that voter registration deadlines are unnecessary, obsolete, and disenfranchise voters. Massachusetts’ current deadline is out of step with what is done in states across the nation. It is time for Massachusetts to join others in recognizing the harm of its voter registration deadline once and for all,” said Alora Thomas-Lundborg, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Learn more about the case, Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin.