PITTSFIELD — Bills attempting to restrict voting access have been proposed in 47 states, including Massachusetts. In response, local groups have planned a Saturday rally to show support for federal legislation that would expand access to the ballot.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, in Park Square in Pittsfield, members of at least 10 Berkshire County advocacy groups and others will gather in support of the For the People Act, a collection of measures to expand voting access that Senate Republicans blocked from a vote in June by using a filibuster.
Alyson Slutzky, of the Great Barrington-based group Left Field, saw rallies planned in Boston and Albany, N.Y., but did not know of any rallies in Western Massachusetts, she said. She contacted other local Democratic groups, and the list of partners since has expanded to include the Berkshire Democratic Brigades, Berkshire Women's Action Group, Great Barrington Democrats, Greylock Together, Indivisible Pittsfield, Sheffield Democrats, Berkshires Democratic Socialists of America, Four Freedoms Coalition and the NAACP Berkshire County branch.
“It’s unusually great that all these groups are coming together to sponsor this rally,” Slutzky said. “Voting is, to me, the foundation of democracy, and if we don’t have voting, we don’t have much of a democracy.”
“There’s a lot of voter suppression against African Americans and the Latinx community,” Slutzky added. “I think it’ll be great for people to hear from the Berkshire African American community.”
Speakers will include at least three elected officials: Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer; state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield; and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. Also speaking will be Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire NAACP branch, and Eden-Reneé Hayes, director of the Davis Center at Williams College.
In the aftermath of an election that broke turnout records, advocates in Massachusetts are continuing efforts to expand access to the ballot.
In Texas, Republicans have sought to pass legislation that would limit voting by mail and ban drive-thru voting, among other restrictions, which observers have said would reduce turnout among low-income voters and voters of color.
“The bottom line is, it was based on a lie that there was fraud, and that’s being used to deliberately target certain populations that tend to vote more Democratic,” Hinds said.
In Massachusetts, Democratic leaders have advanced a proposal to make voting easier, including by establishing voting by mail as a permanent option and to allow same-day voter registration.
But, two House lawmakers have proposed legislation that would require voters to show government identification before casting a ballot. A Democrat, state Rep. Colleen Garry, of Dracut, filed one of those bills, voicing concerns over “fraud.”
While some Democrats have shown openness to similar requirements, Democratic leaders in the Legislature have voiced opposition to the proposal, which seems unlikely to gain traction. Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the requirements can hurt turnout, especially among low-income voters, people of color or senior citizens who do not have a driver’s license.
Hinds said that at the state and federal level, “the direction we need to be going in is to make it easier to vote, not harder.” He has filed a bill to help eligible and incarcerated voters cast ballots through voter education and easier access to absentee ballots.
The federal proposal would restore the voting rights in all states of people who have been convicted of a crime after they no longer are incarcerated, a provision that Hinds called “a step forward to make sure everyone is eligible.”