Mass. Senate approves bill to allow early votingBy STEVE LeBLANC , Associated Press
Jan. 16, 2014 6:35 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts residents would be able to cast ballots up to 10 days before an election and register to vote online and on Election Day under a bill overwhelmingly approved Thursday by the Senate.
The bill, which passed on a 37-1 vote, would allow early voting in all state and federal elections and primaries. Voting would begin 10 business days before an election and end two days before Election Day.
The House last year approved an early voting bill that would allow voters to cast ballots up to two weeks before a presidential election. A joint House and Senate conference committee will have to iron out the differences between the two bills and a final version sent to both chambers for approval.
Both bills would allow early voting to begin with the 2016 elections.
Gov. Deval Patrick has said he "loves the idea" of early voting.
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said Thursday the Senate bill will "modernize the state's election system" and bring Massachusetts in line with other states that have adopted early voting.
More than 30 other states allow some form of early voting and more than a dozen offer online registration.
The Senate also rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have required voters to produce identification or sign an affidavit saying they are eligible to vote before casting their ballots.
Republicans argued the measure would help guard against fraud. But Democrats said requiring IDs could cause delays, drives up costs and suppress the vote among the poor, minorities, the elderly and others who might have less access to IDs.
The House had rejected a photo ID amendment in its version of the bill.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans unsuccessfully pushed back against the amendment allowing Election Day registration.
"How do we maintain the integrity of the process ... when we allow someone to register on the same day that they vote?" Weymouth Republican Sen. Robert Hedlund asked.
Voting advocacy groups have urged the Senate to allow voters to register on Election Day, arguing that on average, states with Election Day registration have turnout rates that are 10 to 12 percent higher than the national average.
In addition, the Senate bill would place voters on the inactive list only after they haven't voted in two consecutive federal elections and not responded to a notice. Currently, voters can be placed on the inactive list for not filling out an annual census.
The bill also would allow preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, give 17-year-olds in Lowell the opportunity to vote in municipal elections if voters there approve the proposal, end the requirement of a check-out desk at polling places and require municipal election officials to attend annual training sessions.
The House version didn't include preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds.
Some lawmakers debate whether the best way to legalize early voting is by a new law or a constitutional amendment. During a joint constitutional convention last October, House and Senate members gave initial approval to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow voters to cast ballots up to 10 days before an election.