‘Vote Early and Vote Often’

Massachusetts has recently had plenty of opportunity to do the latter, and with a new state law, we'll now have the ability to do the former.

That old maxim urges us to vote early and often; frequent special elections have given Massachusetts the opportunity to do the latter, and a new state law signed on Thursday brings us the former.

I’m marginally in favor of early voting, although I’m skeptical it makes much difference in turnout. I will be interested to see how Secretary Bill Galvin implements it, and what assistance (if any) the state ends up giving to municipalities down the line for it.

But the early voting is just one piece of the bill, none of which goes very far in putting Massachusetts on the cutting edge, but put together represents a significant advance to the modern age. “We have been woefully behind,” Pam Wilmot of Common Cause tells me. “All totalled up, it’s going to make a pretty big difference.”

Online voter registration is included, which is a good thing. So is some minor but needed tweaking of the absentee-ballot rules, and of the maintenance of the active voter database. A post-election voting-machine audit process in the bill ended up a bit watered-down, but a half-assed process is better than none.

The piece I really like, though, is the pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. This is particularly important because of the ease of registering to vote at the Registry of Motor Vehicles—now teens will be able to get their names on the rolls when they first get their licenses, even though they can’t vote for a little while.

The legislature did not, unfortunately, give the OK to a plan to allow 17-year-olds to vote in local Lowell elections. I personally believe, quite strongly, that we should lower the voting age to 16 (if not younger), and put polling places at high schools. Let’s put it right in front of them once while they’re a captive audience, and hope that they learn to like it.

The legislature also rejected same-day registration, much to the consternation of progressives. I understand the argument in favor, but there are still some legitimate concerns about implementation, and given the atrocious neglect and under-funding of the state’s elections I’m not sure we’re quite ready to tackle that.

By the way, this bill is separate from a disclosure bill, which is needed to ensure that Super PAC funding is made public for voters in a timely way. That bill is still working its way through committee; the committee chair on the Senate side, Barry Finegold (currently also running for state Treasurer) is hoping to move that bill in the next couple of months, before the end of the formal session.