Voting reforms

Peabody City Clerk Allyson Danforth stands with a ballot box outside City Hall in Peabody. A UMASS poll found a majority of voters in the state support making vote-by-mail a permanent option for registered voters, allowing people to register to vote and cast ballots on Election Day and automatically mailing absentee ballot applications to voters.

BOSTON — Good government groups are urging lawmakers to authorize same-day voter registration and other updates to the state’s election laws, pointing to a new poll showing strong public support for the measures.

A University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll, released on Friday, found a majority of voters support making vote-by-mail a permanent option for registered voters, allowing people to register to vote and cast ballots on Election Day and automatically mailing absentee ballot applications to voters.

At least 65% of the 750 survey respondents said they support same-day registration, according to the UMass poll. More than 64% of those surveyed support making vote-by-mail a permanent option for all registered voters.

The poll also found support for allowing local election clerks to send vote-by-mail ballot applications to voters ahead of state federal and local elections.

The Election Modernization Coalition, which includes Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and MassVOTES, says the survey results should be a wakeup call to lawmakers who are considering the proposed changes.

“Massachusetts voters are giving a clear sign to the Legislature that now is the time to make our democracy stronger by passing the VOTES Act, legislation that includes Same Day Voter Registration, vote by mail, expanded early voting, jail-based voting, and other critical reforms,” the coalition said in a statement.

The group points out that the poll results show that same day voter registration is “the single most popular election reform” being considered by lawmakers.

Under current law, voters must register at least 20 days before an election, but good government groups say the cutoff disenfranchises voters.

In 2018, Massachusetts’ highest court upheld the state’s cutoff deadline following a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin, the state’s top election official, is among those who support allowing same-day registration, permanent mail voting and other reforms.

At least 20 states, including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and the District of Columbia, allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In some cases, laws have faced lawsuits from conservative groups who say the practice opens the door to voter fraud.

Massachusetts and many other states allow voters whose identity can’t be verified on Election Day to cast provisional ballots.

Last month, the state Senate approved same-day registration, permanent mail voting and other reforms as part of a broader election reform bill. The measure must still be taken up by the House and Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker supports permanent mail voting but has expressed concerns about same-day registration.

More than 4.7 million people are registered to vote in Massachusetts. The majority of them, about 57%, are not affiliated with a political party. About one-third are registered Democrats. Fewer than 10% are Republicans.

The UMass Amherst poll also found more than half of respondents, or 55%, support requiring voter ID to vote in elections, with a Republican backed proposal to require it inching toward the 2022 ballot.

Voting rights groups oppose the proposal, however, arguing there is no need for the protections because there is no history of widespread voter fraud in the state.

The poll noted that Massachusetts voters were divided along party lines over many of the proposed changes to election laws.

“Although Massachusetts residents strongly support reforms to make voting easier overall, there are pretty stark partisan and ideological divides,” said Jesse Rhodes, a UMass Amherst professor of political science and pollster. “This reflects national trends, in which Democrats and Republicans, particularly in the era of Trump, have polarized over whether to make voting harder or more convenient.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

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