Senators eye fall action on slate of voting reform proposals

Sen. Barry Finegold File photo
Sen. Barry Finegold File photo

BOSTON –  With the House and Senate expected to vote this week to extend voting-by-mail through mid-December, a more comprehensive election reform bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem advanced out of committee Monday with Democratic leaders eyeing action as soon as the fall.

Creem’s bill would not only make voting-by-mail a permanent option for all voters in Massachusetts, but it would also legalize same-day voter registration and expand early in-person voting.

“We want to build upon what we consider to be the most successful election in Massachusetts history because we had the highest turnout. In a democracy, the goal is to get as many people as possible to participate, regardless of who they support,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, the co-chair of the Elections Laws Committee.

Finegold and House Chairman Rep. Dan Ryan opened a poll of committee members Friday night, giving them until Monday at noon to weigh in on the bill, known as the VOTES Act. The bill advanced on a 14-3 favorable vote, with only the committee’s three Republicans — Rep. Shawn Dooley, Rep. Marc Lombardo and Sen. Ryan Fattman — voting in opposition.

Both Finegold and Creem told the News Service they were hopeful a version of the bill would emerge for a vote in the Senate this fall. It now moves to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“I’m thrilled,” Creem said. “It’s great timing, particularly when we see across the country voter suppression and states that are making it harder for voters.”

The House and Senate last Friday struck a deal to extend the authorization for voting-by-mail until Dec. 15 to cover municipal elections happening later this summer and fall.

The compromise came after the House had voted to make mail-in voting permanent, but did not take up any of the other reforms, such as same-day registration.

While legislative leaders would not say whether the release of the VOTES Act from committee was part of that compromise, Creem said it’s an important step forward. “It’s certainly a statement to say we’re not just doing this temporarily but our intentions are to actually really debate this,” Creem said.