Dear Chairs Lawn and Finegold,
Thank you for conveying today’s virtual hearing to consider legislation to expand and protect the right to vote during this public health emergency. I am heartened many of the bills before the committee share common ground. I write in support of a final committee bill which promotes voter registration, universal vote by mail, and other policies to support equity and public health, which can be found in HD.5075, An Act ensuring safe and participatory 2020 state elections in response to COVID-19 filed by Representatives Lawn and Moran, HD5077, An Act to establish safe, accessible, and fair elections filed by Representative Gouveia, and S2654, An Act establishing vote by mail in 2020 filed by Senator Rausch.
First, we must make registering to vote safe, easy, and accessible through both election day registration and by easing requirements for online voter registration. Voter registration is one of the most important aspects of guaranteeing ballot access even before a vote is cast. The harder it is to register to vote, the less likely it is for potential voters to cast their ballot. During this time many college students may be particularly impacted – students who typically live close to their campuses may now be staying at home. Similarly, housing insecure and low-income residents may soon be living in a new precinct, city, or town in the hopes of lowering their housing costs while protecting their health and taking care of their families. Many residents who may be unable to register in-person at their clerk’s office may find additional barriers to register through our online system which requires a Massachusetts ID. For these reasons, I advocate a final committee bill include provisions relating to same day registration and greater accessibility of online registration.
We know participation is highest when processes are easy, efficient and accessible for all users. With that in mind I advocate for universal mail in voting, with an opt-out provision for those who wish to vote in person. For General Elections, every voter in the Commonwealth should simply be mailed a postage prepaid ballot before the election, instead of having to register for one. Likewise for Primaries voters registered with a party would receive the appropriate ballot automatically and Unenrolled voters would request the ballot of their choice, easily through an online portal or by mail. Steps should be taken so that those with disabilities such as vision impairment are able to participate as well. This process should be as manageable and intuitive as possible.
Our cities and towns also need additional resources. The Secretary should issue guidance to municipalities on best practices for keeping polling places safe during election day and in-person early voting. To account for people not able or willing to mail in their ballots we should expand access to early voting to include weekend and evening hours for the Primary and General elections. Municipalities should also provide at least one curbside voting option, an approach lauded by disability advocacy groups as a useful mechanism to improve ballot access, and one we are seeing in other states.
Given the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic, now more than ever the Legislature must take swift action so that no resident would have to decide between their health or their participation in our democracy. I respectfully urge you to include all of the above policy strategies as you work to report a bill out favorably. Thank you for your consideration.
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly