Secretary of State wins court battle to bar people from registering to vote less than three weeks before an election

The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a state law that blocks people from registering to vote in the 20 days before an election - but dropped a hint to the Legislature that, hey, you guys could change this if you want, before adding, it's OK if you don't want to.

The ruling comes in reaction to a suit filed by several people who tried registering less than 20 days before the 2016 election in Revere, Chelsea and Somerville.

A Superior Court judge ruled the law unconstitutional, but Secretary of State William Galvin, who was also named in the suit, appealed. Josh Zakim, Galvin's opponent in the Democratic primary this year, supports Election Day registration.

The state's highest court began its discussion by noting the state constitution upholds "the fundamental right to vote" in several sections. But, it continues, the constitution also gives the state legislature the right to "enact reasonable laws and regulations that are, in its judgment, appropriate."

So, a conundrum: How to balance the two?

The court acknowledged much has changed since it ruled 35 years ago that a pre-election blackout met constitutional muster.

What was perhaps a reasonable regulation that insignificantly interfered with the right to vote thirty-five, one hundred, or 200 years ago may be considered to significantly interfere with the exercise of that right today in light of technological change and the reasonable expectations of Massachusetts citizens.

But the justices then continued that the pre-election limit is OK, because it "does not disenfranchise any voter" - and registering to vote in Massachusetts has become a simple task, and because Galvin does a good job at alerting the public about voter-registration deadlines.

Those in the individual plaintiff's position were free to register prior to the deadline and would have been eligible to vote in the 2016 election had they merely looked into what is required to register and done so. Importantly, the registration deadline does not apply to categories of qualified voters for whom the deadline is more likely to pose a burden. "Specially qualified voters," including Massachusetts residents who are absent from the Commonwealth during the seven days immediately preceding the voter registration deadline or who become a citizen of the United States after the registration deadline but before an election, are exempt.

In addition, the record suggests that the Secretary undertakes sufficient actions to inform the public about the registration deadline. The Secretary mails every household in the Commonwealth an "Information for Voters" booklet that includes a voter registration form and information about the deadline with instructions in Spanish and Chinese as to how to obtain a translated version of the booklet in those languages. Copies of the booklet are provided to group homes, city and town halls, public libraries, senior centers, and various community organizations. Voter registration forms, which note the deadline, are available at municipal offices, post offices, and libraries; online; and via organizations conducting voter registration drives. Information is also disseminated through public service announcements on television stations and newspapers.

As for registration itself, the record contains ample evidence that the Commonwealth has taken great steps to ensure that the process is simple and accessible. ...

Considering a totality of these factors, we conclude that a requirement that prospective voters register twenty days in advance of an election does not pose a significant interference with the fundamental right to vote under the Massachusetts Constitution so as to require the application of strict scrutiny.

The limit, it said, would give local elections officials enough time to process registration requests before an election. In a footnote, the court noted that early voting in 2016 started just five days after the normal deadline for Election Day registration and that Boston officials had to have 30 workers spend a total of 9,000 hours going through registration requests that came in only five days before the state's first ever early voting period - and that that meant many people who registered during that period got provisional ballots that could not be counted as valid until election day anyway.

The court noted, however, that a legislative committee set up to consider shortening the pre-election blackout never met.

Thus, we have a concern that, given the passage of time, the reasoned basis for the twenty-day blackout period may need to be reconsidered.

But then, the court continues, it will give the legislature the benefit of the doubt and assume that legislators haven't acted because they remain convinced the 20-day limit is OK.

We assume that the legislative inaction in this area represents a conscious conclusion that thedeadline remains "as near [election day] as would be consistent with the necessary preparation for conducting the election in an orderly manner and with a reasonable scrutiny of the correctness of the list."

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete ruling111.98 KB
Ad:

Comments

Isn't it great that September

By on

Isn't it great that September 1 is the most common moving date, and it often falls within a two week window of the primary?

up
Voting is closed. 27

Oh, speaking of that ...

By on

That the primary this year is on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day, is also an issue in the secretary of state's race this year.

up
Voting is closed. 22

The choice was between that and a non-Tuesday

since September 11 and 18 both conflict with the Jewish High Holy Days. In previous years when this conflict has occurred, the Secretary of State has scheduled the primary for a Thursday. I don't know why he didn't make that choice this year.

up
Voting is closed. 18

If MA cared

Elections should be on Saturdays, plus early voting at municipal offices. Weekend voting would get more people to the polls plus would prevent schools from needing to close on election day.

up
Voting is closed. 45

Do they close now?

By on

My voting location is in a Boston Public School and they are always open on election day. (And they always have a bake sale going on that you have to pass as you walk into the voting area.)

up
Voting is closed. 28

They don't always have bake sales

By on

I mean, I don't want to discourage you from voting in September, but don't count on those delicious treats at the Conley on primary day.

In November, bring your sense of civic duty, and bring your stomach and wallet because they'll be great treats for a great cause.

up
Voting is closed. 16

Nah

By on

I remember great bake sales from my childhood, but I don't think most of them get it together for the early voters. If you're voting before you go to work because you don't have the day off as we should, no cupcakes for you, which sucks.

up
Voting is closed. 14

Public Access

I'm pretty sure the schools are closed in Medford. The thinking at many schools is that they can't give up the lunchroom for voting and they don't want the general public near children.

For a lot of people they are at work all day and can't go in the morning or evening. Sure it's a law they have right to leave work but some employers won't pay for this time. Not everyone works a normal 8 hour day with ample time before or after work to vote. (Yes, some people work on weekends but fewer than on Tuesdays.)

up
Voting is closed. 19

...and those for whom

By on

...and those for whom Saturday is the Sabbath? So far as I know, a Tuesday doesn't create that problem.

Yes, I've heard that (security as the reason behind closing schools on election days) from friends in a number of different places. Maddening.

up
Voting is closed. 23

The polls are open for 11

By on

The polls are open for 11 hours (7 am to 8 pm). And employers are required to give you a 2 hour break to vote.

up
Voting is closed. 20

We get in line at the polling

By on

We get in line at the polling station right before it opens. If voting is important to you, you make the effort to wake up extra early or get an absentee ballot. It's not rocket science.

up
Voting is closed. 35

And Josh Zakim thanks the

By on

And Josh Zakim thanks the Supreme Judicial Court for this boon to his campaign. Bye bye, Prince of Darkness.

up
Voting is closed. 35

So your fine with Josh

By on

So your fine with Josh proposing to violate the law, ignore theSJC, and usurp the purview of the legislature? It's the legislature's job to write laws not these executive positions.

Rampant and unaccountable executive power is a problem and not a feature. The legislative process, separation of powers, and judicial review are all integral to the functioning of the Commonwealth and candidates which gleefully campaign that they care not for such things shouldn't be rewarded by voters.

up
Voting is closed. 24

Whoa, there, big fella ...

By on

Where does it say Zakim plans to establish an autocracy and rule by decree? Supporting same-day registration is hardly the same as saying he will impose it by fiat and not work with the legislature to change things.

up
Voting is closed. 31

Might want to think this through ...

By on

The ruling is a potential boon for Zakim if it turns out people are in favor of Election Day registration and vote against Galvin because he appealed the initial ruling in favor of it.

up
Voting is closed. 30

Better State Secretary Candidates please!

By on

There are better people for Candidacy to the Offices of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts than the two choices. The City Councilor continues ignoring bad Records Management practices of Boston City Council contrary to Records Management responsibilities of State Secretary http://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcrmu/rmuidx.htm The Public Funded Stenographic Record of City Council Public Meetings a more accurate Document than the inaccurate video captions for hard of hearing folks is removed from City Hall hidden from hard of hearing folks, hidden from ESL English Second Language folks, hidden from all folks!

up
Voting is closed. 12

On it's face, false.

By on

"But the justices then continued that the pre-election limit is OK, because it "does not disenfranchise any voter" "

This is on it's face false. Our primary is September 4. A common moving day is September 1.

If you move to Massachusetts on September 1, you can't vote at all in the primary. If you move to a different state rep district, state senate district, or governor's council district, you can't vote in that race. And, if you want to argue that primaries are different, just use the less-common but perfectly-possible November 1 date.

It doesn't disenfranchise very many voters, but it's decidedly more than zero.

Shame on Bill Galvin.

up
Voting is closed. 22

That's true

By on

But as I wrote, your new address might have a different state rep district. Or state senator. Or Governor's Council. Or Congressperson.

You're denied the opportunity to vote for your representation.

up
Voting is closed. 29

People who spend their workday posting to boards

By on

Really shouldn’t complain about how they can’t vote, because it’s during a workday. Prioritize. All that same day registration would do is validate mad king Donald’s ramblings.

up
Voting is closed. 22

Mr Pot? Meet Mr. Kettle

By on

Why are you posting here? How did you find the time in your busy work schedule?

up
Voting is closed. 31

Pot does not moan about having to vote on Tuesday.

By on

I find time for Democracy and don’t try to wring an off day out of it. As for work schedule call it complicated.

The main issue here is day of registration, which would lead to massive voter fraud and harm the country. But gee let’s call it progressive and insist Zakim knows what he’s doing.

up
Voting is closed. 20

Tiny bias, Adam?

By on

According to the SJC, Galvin read the law right.

If only there was some way to change the law. Like, say we elected a general court to make laws. I know, a crazy thought, but maybe some day.

up
Voting is closed. 24

Good point

By on

Yes, the court agreed Galvin read the law correctly.

The court also said the legislature could change the law (there are now like a dozen states that allow Election Day registration), so now it becomes an issue in the race for this office.

up
Voting is closed. 28

But here’s the thing

By on

Zakim, or whoever might come after Galvin, doesn’t have the power to unilaterally change the law.

Might I posit that 200 other politicians might have a more vested interest in the status quo, too. But I bet that the few of them facing competitive races will not be questioned on this this year.

up
Voting is closed. 17

If only this were 12-dimensional chess

By on

That theorem might apply here, since ranked voting is also up for consideration in this election (I think both candidates support at least looking at it), but that was not at all an issue in this case.

up
Voting is closed. 15

So Galvin is

By on

literally spending our tax money to stop people from voting. I can’t wait to vote for Zakim.

up
Voting is closed. 33

I can

more people might vote. big problem!

up
Voting is closed. 17