Massachusetts Senate Passes Election Reform Bill

The Massachusetts Senate last Thursday voted 37-1 in favor of passing legislation to reform and modernize the election laws in the Commonwealth by approving early voting for state and federal elections and primaries, allowing residents to register to vote on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system. The bill also allows for 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. 

“This is a big step forward in easing voter access to the polls and increasing overall voter participation in the elections of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington). “I was pleased to see many amendments that I co-sponsored pass, including Election Day voter registration, sticky voting, post-election audits and municipal election cost relief.” 

Under this bill, Massachusetts would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia that allow early voting. Early voting would begin 10 business days before the election and end two days before the election. The first early voting period would occur in 2016.   

“In addition to passing amendments to increase voter participation, the Senate wisely defeated a number of voter ID proposals that were not based upon sound data or evidence and would deter voters at the polls,” added Senator Donnelly.  

The bill would also place voters on the inactive list only after not voting in two consecutive federal elections and not responding to a notice from the city or town. Under current law, a voter can be placed on the inactive list for not filling out an annual census. If a voter does not vote in two additional federal elections, the voter will be removed from the voter list.  

In addition to building an online voter registration system, the Secretary of State would create a secure online portal to allow voters to easily check their voter registration status and polling place.  

The bill also allows a voter whose political designation does not list a candidate to receive a ballot for the political party of the voter’s choosing. The legal definition of “political designation” does not include the republican and democrat political parties.  

The bill also does the following:


  • Eliminates the requirement of a check-out desk at polling places;

  • Requires municipal election officials to attend annual training given by  the Secretary of State regarding applicable state and federal election laws;

  • Eliminates the requirement for a cancellation device on voting machines;

  • Clarifies that the police detail requirement at polling locations may not apply to early voting sites; and,

  • Establishes an elections task force to review early voting and expanding technology, including costs, administrative requirements, reductions in wait times on Election Day, the feasibility of additional early voting sites and hours, voter turnout, Election Day mobile alerts and online voting.   

The Senate bill and the House bill will now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the governor.

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