A Massachusetts election reform bill that codifies pandemic-era allowances, including no-pardon voting by mail and extended early voting, has finally emerged from a conference committee — without its most controversial provision.
Bay Staters will still not be allowed to register to vote on Election Day based on the comprehensive agreement announced Wednesday. But in recent months, state senators and suffrage activists have pushed for same-day voter registration to increase equity and access, particularly for marginalized communities across Massachusetts.
“While I am disappointed that registration was not included in the final bill on the same day, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to introduce legislation on the issue in the future,” Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives opposed same-day voter registration. Nineteen states — including Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine — have enacted Election Day registration, as well as Washington, DC National Conference of State Legislators.
The conference committee announcement, shared by Senator Barry Finegold’s office, came hours after Secretary of State William Galvin warned Wednesday morning that Bay Staters could face voting disruptions if the VOTES Act impasse continues.
The Senate plans to address the compromise bill in its Thursday session, Finegold told MassLive.
Legislation was blocked in the conference committee for more than four months when members of the House and Senate passed a controversial same-day voter registration provision. However, both houses had agreed to vote by mail, a popular option that accounted for nearly 48% of all ballots cast in the 2020 state primary, Galvin’s office said.
“In 2020, we had record-breaking turnout in both the primary and the general election, thanks in large part to our efforts to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely and conveniently,” Galvin said in a statement Wednesday, before the conference committee reached his Approval. “With less than three months until our next statewide election, urgent action is needed to enable voters to plan how to vote, request their ballots, and receive their ballots in a timely manner.”
Early Wednesday, Senate President Karen Spilka said MassLive that an agreement is imminent. Spilka said she hopes voter registration will be included in the final bill on the same day.
The Ashland Democrat similarly expressed support for a more limited voter registration option on Election Day, which proponents have called an important compromise for the conference committee to pursue, saying Beacon Hill “needs to look at anything that would help.” to improve our voting access”.
“I think Massachusetts should be at the forefront when it comes to improving access to voters,” Spilka told MassLive outside the Massachusetts State House, where lawmakers gathered to raise a rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month. “This is the basis of our democracy and I hope that we can compromise and somehow include it (same-day voter registration).”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Ron Mariano pointed out that more flexible voting options will not be available in the spring local elections. This has created an “interesting” situation, Mariano said, as the VOTES law is pending and pandemic voting flexibility has expired.
“We’ve already had two or three local elections. I never heard another complaint about absentee ballots,” Mariano said.
Permanent postal voting is included in the latest version of the VOTES Act. Under the bill, the secretary of state’s office is required to send absentee ballots and return postage to registered voters before presidential and state primaries, as well as before biennial state elections, Finegold’s office said.
Bay Staters will now face a reduced timeframe for registering to vote, with the compromise agreement reducing the 20-day period to 10 days before an election.
The law also provides for two weeks, including two weekends, of early voting for biannual state elections. There is also a week, including a weekend, of early voting for presidential or state primaries.
Finegold, the Senate chair of the conference committee, told MassLive he expects voter registration to be dealt with the same day in the next legislative session.
“When more people participate in democracy, we all win,” Finegold said. “Since everything that’s going on in Ukraine and other states takes away the right to vote, I think we should be very comfortable with this law. From my point of view, a great bill.”
Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, said the organization plans to launch voter education initiatives to ensure communities of color and working-class neighborhoods take advantage of absentee and early voting in a spirit of justice.
“Doubling our commitment to justice also means we will continue our efforts to pass registration on the same day in 2023,” Huang said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Same-day registration would lower registration barriers for renters who are disproportionately people of color in a state with a widening racial homeownership divide.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Senate President Karen Spilka is from Ashland.