Lawmakers from Lawrence, Winthrop and Boston have filed bills that would give system-wide, free rides on MBTA and regional transit authority buses, subways and trolleys on the day of state primary or general elections.
It’s a relatively small thing, known as the FARE Act, but it could be an important incentive in the 26 gateway cities where making transportation free for voting days would make the polls more accessible for often underrepresented neighborhoods. Gateway cities, including Lawrence, Haverhill, Peabody, Salem and Methuen, tend to have larger populations of Black or brown residents, immigrants and lower-income populations. Given those demographic factors, these cities often see lower voter turnout and have residents who rely more on public transit than people in more affluent communities.
State Rep. Frank A. Moran, a Lawrence Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors in the House, said in a statement distributed by the group MassVOTE, “It is an unfortunate reality that many voters, especially those residing in gateway communities such as Lawrence, are unable to participate in the democratic process due to socioeconomic hinderances such as transportation access.”
If lawmakers pass the FARE Act, it would “bolster our commonwealth’s commitment to providing residents with equitable access to their polling locations, while increasing voter participation in typically low turnout communities.”
At a time when some lawmakers in other states are trying to make it harder for people in minority populations to vote, this simple measure could remove an impediment to voting for newer citizens and people of color in Massachusetts, enabling them to exercise this essential part of our democratic system.
The FARE Act bill is SD.1557 in the Senate and HD.2474 in the House.