Although Massachusetts’s constitution–the oldest written constitution in continuous effect — has an affirmative right to vote, we have often lagged behind other states when it comes to voting rights. Indeed, we are the only state in all of New England without some form of Election Day registration.
Fun fact: New Hampshire has had it for almost as long as Bill Galvin has been our Secretary of State here in MA (1996 vs. 1995). States like Minnesota and Wisconsin had it decades before. When we screamed about Scott Walker’s efforts to increase obstacles to voting, Wisconsin’s laws were still more liberal than ours in many ways. In other words, we can do a lot better.
After the 2016 election, the ACLU, on behalf of MassVote and the Chelsea Collaborative, sought to change that and filed suit against the Commonwealth, arguing that our twenty-day registration cutoff is unconstitutional by way of the state constitution and its affirmative right to vote.
Last summer, the Suffolk Superior Court ruled in the ACLU’s favor, asserting that the deadline was arbitrarily chosen and unnecessarily prevented thousands of citizens from exercising their constitutional rights:
“The court concludes that the Commonwealth has shown no real reason, grounded in data, facts or expert opinion, why election officials need to close registration almost 3 weeks before the election to do their job,” Associate Justice Douglas H. Wilkins wrote in his ruling. “Instead, the plaintiffs have shown that there is no compelling reason for a 20-day deadline that deprives individuals of their right to vote.”
Rather than allowing the ruling to stand, Secretary Bill Galvin chose to appeal it, raising the spectre of “voter fraud.” (As I like to joke, it’s difficult enough to get people to vote once.)
Unfortunately, the Supreme Judicial Court earlier this week sided with Galvin in upholding Massachusetts’s discriminatory laws.
It is amusing for me to see Galvin present himself as a champion of Election Day Registration now. Last summer, he was talking about voter fraud. This January, he was championing Election Day Registration. Primary challenges work wonders! (h/t Josh Zakim)
But how credible is Galvin’s newfound embrace of EDR?
Over the course of 2013 and 2014, the Legislature worked on an election modernization bill that helped bring our elections partly into the twenty-first century, with things like early voting and pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds. The Senate’s bill contained EDR. The House’s did not. As often happens, the House won.
Where was Galvin? He was lobbying against the reforms in the bill.
His EDR bill is, of course, weaker than that filed by Rep. Liz Malia and Sen. Cindy Creem. He supports EDR–just not during the early voting period (a position with no sound basis).
But knowing fully well the intransigence of the House (imagine if more people voted! Some of them might get primary challenges! We’d lose our status as one of the least competitive states!), he filed his own bill.
Is he working the building to get it passed in the final crunch period? Obviously not. His support reminds me of when oil companies feign support of carbon pricing to pretend to care about climate change while knowing fully well the endorsed policy will not get passed.
Had he wanted to see ER happen, the easiest thing to do would have been to drop his appeal. If the Suffolk Superior ruling were to stand, the Legislature would have had to take action to fix the unconstitutionality of the registration cutoff. Galvin could have pushed his friends in the House (indeed, his neighboring representative is quite close to the Speaker) to pass Election Day Registration as a solution. He’d have real leverage, afforded by the courts! Then to the Senate. And (Baker should not be an obstacle because we have massive Democratic supermajorities if only they’d use them) we’d have Election Day Registration.
But instead, he appealed. I know this may sound complicated: but if you want something to happen, you don’t try to block it in court.