A Massachusetts election reform bill codifying pandemic-era allowances, including no-excuse voting by mail and expanded 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 compromise agreement disclosed Wednesday. But in recent months, state senators and voting rights activists have pushed for same-day voter registration to bolster fairness and access, especially for marginalized communities in Massachusetts.
“While I am disappointed that same-day registration was not included in the final bill, even though the Senate offers several compromise approaches, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to file a legislation on the subject in the future,” Senate Majority Leader Cindy said. Creem said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Unlike the Senate, the House had opposed same-day voter registration. According to National Conference of State Legislatures.
The conference committee announcement, shared by Sen. Barry Finegold’s office, came hours after Secretary of State William Galvin warned Wednesday morning that Bay Staters could experience voting disruptions if the impasse surrounding the VOTES law persisted.
The Senate plans to tackle the compromise bill in session Thursday, Finegold told MassLive.
The legislation has been stalled at the conference committee for more than four months as House and Senate members navigate a controversial same-day voter registration provision. But both houses had agreed to vote-by-mail, a popular option that accounted for nearly 48% of all votes cast in the 2020 state primaries, Galvin’s office said.
“In 2020, we saw record turnout in primaries and elections, thanks in large part to our efforts to ensure voters could vote safely and easily,” Galvin said in a statement Wednesday, before the conference committee does not reach its agreement. “With less than 3 months before our next statewide election, urgent action is needed so that voters can plan their vote, request their ballots and receive their ballots in a timely manner.”
Earlier Wednesday, Senate President Karen Spilka told MassLive that a deal was imminent. Spilka said she hopes same-day voter registration will be included in the final bill.
The Ashland Democrat also expressed support for a more limited voter registration option on Election Day, which supporters touted as a key compromise the conference committee should pursue, as she said Beacon Hill must “examine anything that could help improve our access to the vote”.
“I think Massachusetts should be a leader in increasing voter access,” Spilka told MassLive outside the Massachusetts State House, where lawmakers gathered to raise a rainbow flag in l pride month honor. “It’s the foundation of our democracy, and I hope we can reach a compromise and include it (same-day voter registration) in some way.”
House Speaker Ron Mariano meanwhile pointed out that more flexible voting options were not available in the spring municipal elections. This created an “interesting” situation, Mariano said, as the VOTES Act was pending and pandemic voting flexibilities expired.
“We have already had two or three local elections. I’ve never really heard another complaint about mail-in voting,” Mariano said.
Permanent postal voting is included in the latest version of the VOTES law. Under the bill, the office of the secretary of state is required to send mail-in ballot requests and return postage to registered voters before presidential and state primaries, as well as biennial elections in Condition, according to Finegold’s office.
Bay Staters will now face a shortened deadline to register to vote, with the compromise agreement reducing the deadline from 20 days to 10 days before an election.
The legislation also provides for two weeks, including two weekends, of early voting for biennial national elections. There is also a week, including a weekend, of early voting for the presidential or state primaries.
Finegold, the Senate chair of the conference committee, told MassLive that he expects same-day voter registration to be addressed in the next legislative session.
“When more people participate in democracy, we all win,” Finegold said. “With everything going on in Ukraine and other states taking away the right to vote, I think we should be very happy with this bill. In my opinion, it is an excellent bill.
Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table, said the organization, in the interests of fairness, plans to launch voter education initiatives to ensure communities of color and working-class neighborhoods benefit from voting by correspondence and early voting.
“Doubting our commitment to fairness also means that we will continue our efforts to achieve same-day registration success in 2023,” Huang said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Same-day registration would reduce barriers to registration for renters, who are disproportionately people of color in a state where the racial ownership gap is widening.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Senate Speaker Karen Spilka is from Ashland.