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Four Berkshire reps split as House votes to study same-day voter registration

Election 2020 Massachusetts Democrats (copy)

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, pictured in 2019, supports same-day voter registration and does believe further study is necessary, a spokesperson said. The Massachusetts House voted to replace a proposal for Election Day registration with an order for Galvin to study the policy, splitting the four Berkshire County representatives.

The Massachusetts House voted Thursday night to punt voter registration reforms to Secretary of State William Galvin for further study, but Galvin doesn’t think the idea needs any further examination.

“Secretary Galvin does not think further study of Election Day registration is necessary, and he was not consulted on this requirement,” Galvin spokeswoman Deb O’Malley said in a statement. “He strongly supports moving forward as soon as possible with Election Day or same day registration, which is why he included it in his election reform proposal a year ago.”

The Senate last year recommended scrapping the registration deadline, which is 20 days before an election, and replacing it with a system in which eligible voters could register and cast ballots in-person on the same day.

The House, which agreed to shrink the registration blackout period prior to elections to 10 days, voted to require Galvin to analyze the policy and fiscal impacts of same-day registration to the state and to each of its 351 cities and towns.

Rank-and-file lawmakers, advocacy groups and others had pressured House leaders to adopt same-day registration, which they pitched as a common-sense reform to expand access to the ballot box.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Boston, said she was “deeply disappointed” that House leaders left same-day registration out.

“Same-day registration is critical to boosting voter turnout, especially among Black, brown, low-income, and immigrant communities, and arbitrary voter registration deadlines should not be a barrier to exercising the right to vote,” Pressley said in a news release.

Advocacy groups suggested that House leaders feared that increasing turnout among those groups would hurt their reelection chances.

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said ahead of the debate that he supported same-day registration alongside funding to help clerks deal with the added workload. State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said she supported Election Day registration, which allows people to register and vote at the same time only on Election Day, rather than the entire early voting period.

The Massachusetts Town Clerks Association had expressed concern with the feasibility of same-day registration but said on the day of the House debate that it supports Election Day registration.

While state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, offered an amendment to include same-day registration in the bill, state Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston, proposed a “compromise” of Election Day registration.

Yet, Assistant Majority Leader Michael Moran, D-Boston, suggested to replace those amendments with the proposal for a study. Lawmakers approved the study amendment by a 93-64 vote. State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, and state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, voted for the study, while Mark and Farley-Bouvier voted against it.

The adopted study language did not include a reporting deadline, and will soon be among the topics that a voting reform conference committee will be charged with settling.

Asked how quickly Galvin, the state’s elections overseer, would be able to complete a study, O’Malley said “that will ultimately depend on whether the study is included in a final bill, when that bill is actually enacted, and what information the final legislation requires of the study.”

The voting reform bills approved in both branches would make permanent mail-in voting and early voting periods expanded during the pandemic, but with the 2022 election season growing nearer, the same-day registration reform looms as a matter in which one branch will need to give in.

While same-day registration has been adopted in other states, supporters of the study approach cited clerks’ concerns as they argued for an assessment of staffing requirements and a study of “other collateral consequences,” which are not specified in the study order.

The study language states that same-day registration should not be implemented until the secretary of state weighs in with a report “including a recommendation on the necessity and advisability of the provisions of this section.”

Same-day and Election Day registration reforms have been discussed on Beacon Hill since the early 2000s.

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