Photo: Rahsaan Hall (back row, far right), director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Racial Justice Program, rallies for early voting efforts alongside other members of the Election Modernization Coalition.
In an effort to set a gold standard, advocates from the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition today announced their recommendations for implementing the state’s new early voting law. Scheduled to go into effect in November 2016, the new law provides Massachusetts voters with the opportunity to vote up to eleven days prior to Election Day.
The coalition also launched a contest for Massachusetts cities and towns, setting up a competition for the adoption of robust early voting practices.
The Election Modernization Coalition—comprised of Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Voter Table, the MIRA Coalition, and Progressive Massachusetts—gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts State House, to announce the standards and to launch the Early Voting Challenge contest.
“Early voting is one important step towards modernizing our elections,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “If implemented well, it will allow many people whose work or family obligations preclude them from standing in line or even getting to a poll on Election Day an opportunity to vote. It is already working well in 32 other states and will cut down on long lines during high turnout elections and improve the voting experience for many.”
Early voting will start eleven business days preceding Election Day and municipalities will be required to have at least one early voting site open during normal business hours. Advocates noted, however, that implementing the law with only these minimal requirements will not be enough.
“Early voting’s success will depend on communities having evening and weekend hours available and, for cities and towns with populations over 35,000, more than one location to vote,” Wilmot said.
“We believe early voting must be administered in an equitable manner so all voters can have equal opportunity to vote,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Executive Director of MassVOTE. “It simply wouldn’t work to have the same standards for the city of Boston and the town of Gosnold. Voters in major cities will require more sites and more hours to have the same level of opportunity for casting their ballots as those in smaller municipalities.”
“The 2014 elections had the lowest rate of youth turnout recorded in the past 40 years,” said Janet Domenitz Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “Our democracy has no future if young people don’t engage. And for young people to engage, we need to bring our elections into the 21st century—early voting is one of many needed reforms that does that, and we need to do it right.”
To aid Massachusetts officials in their implementation of early voting next year, the coalition released a statement of recommended standards for early voting. The standards are based on best practices in other states, as detailed in a Common Cause Massachusetts report also released at the press conference.
Recommendations include at least one early voting site for every 35,000 people, evening and weekend hours for voting, advertising early voting times and locations, and availability of all possible ballots within that city or town at each location.
The coalition also announced a challenge to all Massachusetts cities and towns. Communities that meet the coalition’s recommended standards for the number of locations and hours will receive a gold or a silver “medal” which can be placed on their websites.
"We’re asking all Massachusetts cities and towns to participate in the Coalition’s inaugural Early Voting Challenge,” said Anne Borg, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. “We’re hoping our contest will encourage municipal officials to adopt our recommended standards for early voting. If they do, we are confident it will not only benefit voters in 2016, but will make election administration more manageable as well.”
The coalition will also be launching a grassroots campaign to encourage participation in the early voting challenge.
“It’s exciting,” said Tony Mack of the Massachusetts Voter Table. “Starting today, the organizations in this coalition will be working hard to activate our members and recruit local volunteers who will advocate for the goals of the Early Voting Challenge in their city or town. Local activists know their local officials best, and we’re looking forward to working with them to assure that early voting is accessible to all eligible voters in the state.”
“Early voting has been proven to increase participation in communities with historically low voter turnout. Communities of color and neighborhoods with large concentrations of young people will greatly benefit from this change in the law,” said Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “For a democracy to live up to its full potential all of its citizenry must be actively engaged. The introduction of early voting will help increase engagement from communities whose needs often go unmet due in part to low turnout.”
For more details on the recommendations and the Early Voting Challenge, go to www.EarlyVotingMA.com