By: John Jongbloed

This year’s election cycle will be the first in which Massachusetts citizens are permitted to participate in early voting in state elections. This recent development in Massachusetts’ election law is accompanied by several other changes and results from the enactment of An Act Relative to Election Laws, 2014 (HB 3788). More specifically, the reform bill provides for early voting in biennial state elections between eleven and two days before election day.

All eligible Massachusetts voters are also now able to register to vote online and readily check their registration status to ensure they are all set to cast their ballot when the time comes. Additionally, this online registration now allows for the pre-registration of sixteen and seventeen year-olds so they can be immediately prepared to vote once they turn eighteen.

These revisions to the registration policy represent a concerted and valiant effort to encourage young citizens to participate in the democratic process and exercise their right to vote as soon as they become eligible. This legislative development also depicts a real-life effort of the older-generations providing a form of assistance in helping society’s youth become more politically active, and is refreshing to observe given the flak that our younger generations have taken for low voter turnout.

A look at the opinions and statements of some the elected officials responsible for this legislation can help provide some additional context into the particulars of its passage. State Senator Barry Finegold voiced strong support for the bill and its hopeful impact of increasing turnout and providing those who may not have otherwise made it to the polls with another opportunity to be a part of the political process.

This optimism seems to stem largely from the idea that many would-be voters are just logistically unable to make it to the polls for a variety of reasons such as job maintenance and the inability to take time off of work or child and family care. An example of this problem is seen in last year’s comments from MassVote’s Executive Director who believes theses efforts are aimed at limiting the number of excuses people have to casting their vote each election.

Some, however, are less certain as to the law’s real benefit and are speculative as to how it will all play out in practice. For example, a Massachusetts Town Clerk expressed concerns about the costs to municipalities of setting up early voting procedures and is less than convinced of its potential to raise voter turnout.

Overall, regardless of differing viewpoints on this legislative change in Massachusetts’ voting and election laws, efforts like these represent current and successful political efforts to combat low voter turnout across the state. This new law also has the additional benefit to young voters with the pre-registration opportunity, making it easier than ever to become a first-time voter.  It is likely that we will continue to see related efforts aimed at getting more and more eligible voters to the polls, but these new election practices are more than likely to play a large role in how these developments play out in the years to come.

It will be extremely interesting to see how this change in Massachusetts state election law will impact voter turnout in this upcoming election. Additionally, the nature of the 2016 Presidential Election may generally reflect a rise, or dip, in voter turnout, making it tough to attribute patterns in participation to this particular change in the state’s election laws and whether voters would have still been incentivized to vote early in state elections.  In any case, Massachusetts voters will have one, or nine (days able to cast an early vote) fewer excuse(s) to abstain from participating in the upcoming election.

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