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June 16, 2005
Report shows vote
Thousands of would-be voters in Massachusetts showed
up to the polls last November only to be turned away or forced
to cast provisional ballots.
A report released last week by the voting rights group MassVOTE
and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights sheds light on the
problem and offers solutions.
The two groups’ analysis of voting access in 11 cities across
the state is based on data collected by over 600 volunteer poll
monitors. The report found that nine percent, or 3,643 of the
41,753 people surveyed at the polls said they were not allowed
to cast regular ballots. Extrapolating from that number, the researchers
estimate that 200,000 of the 3 million eligible voters who turned
out last November experienced registration or other problems.
Most who said they were denied the chance to cast regular ballots
found their names were not on the list of registered voters at
the polling locations nearest their homes, usually because they
had not changed their addresses with election authorities since
moving. Others may have filled out registration forms provided
by nonprofits or political parties who then failed to properly
Representatives of MassVOTE and the Lawyers Committee argue that
election-day registration would make voting easier by allowing
those who have not yet registered to show proof of residency,
such as a driver’s license or utility bill, upon arrival
at the polls.
“Voter dis-enfranchisement doesn’t only happen in
Ohio or Florida,” said MassVOTE Executive Director Juan
Martinez. “These issues occur in every election in states
across the country, including Massachusetts, and they need to
be addressed. It’s a serious problem when nearly one in
10 eligible voters cannot cast a ballot on election day. Every
citizen has a right to vote and to have their ballots counted.”
The Legislature has rejected previous bills calling for election-day
registration, but this year’s push is backed up by substantial
data thanks to the poll monitoring and the work of lawyers recruited
to staff a hotline for voting rights complaints.
The issue is also being debated at the national level, with legislation
in Congress calling for election-day registration.
“An interesting window has opened where more people are
talking about EDR than in the past, and we are encouraged,”
said Martinez during a State House press conference to announce
the study last week. “It’s going to take a lot of
work on our part and from our community partners. Ultimately,
we’d like to see election-day registration happen in time
for this fall’s elections.”
Black lawmakers on Beacon Hill are leading the charge for election-day
registration and other voting rights reforms, with Rep. Gloria
Fox sponsoring legislation calling for election-day registration
along with Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem and Rep. Byron Rushing and
Sen. Dianne Wilkerson teaming up to sponsor bills calling for
a commission to study election reform and better training for
One reason for the activism on the part of black elected officials
may be that communities of color tend to have lower voter turnout,
and lawmakers are hoping that reforms such as election-day registration
would encourage more people to vote.
The six states that allow election-day registration, which include
New Hampshire and Minnesota, have higher voter turnouts, according
to the report’s authors.
The authors are calling on legislators to support better training
of poll workers and reforms geared at improving recruitment of
poll volunteers, including reducing the length of shifts, allowing
non-citizens to serve as translators and conducting more outreach
to area colleges.
The report found that many poll workers are not properly trained,
causing problems for many voters.
For instance, poll workers in Lowell told would-be voters whose
names did not appear on voting rolls that they could not give
them provisional ballots. New voters with limited English found
translators at some polls in the state, but not at others.
In Worcester, the election department gave out outdated and thus
invalid registration forms in Spanish.
The report also found problems with some voting machines, though
the problems were not widespread. Optical scanners stopped working
for a time at polling locations in at least four cities, for instance.
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