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November 10, 2012 / needhamgrassroots

Voting in Massachusetts, 2012

Let’s be clear. Long lines equal voter suppression. A 2 hour line to vote will inevitably mean that some people can’t vote. We must do better.

There comes a time when failing to innovate, decade after decade, creates shameful burdens on voters.

An excellent assessment and overview by the always excellent MassVote:

On November 6, Massachusetts broke the 2008 record. So far, including absentee ballots, at least 3,128,134 votes were cast. That’s about 25,000 more votes than 2008, when 3,102,995 ballots were cast.

Cities and towns in Massachusetts are still finishing their final tallies. Overseas and military votes that arrived late are still being processed, and provisional ballots from Election Day are being judged individually to determine whether or not they should be counted. The total number will go up.

MassVOTE was hoping for more, yet we are pleased that the trend of increasing voter participation in Massachusetts in presidential elections continues unbroken.

Still, there were significant problems on Election Day that prevented some people from casting votes. Extremely long lines — including lines of 2 hours or more — caused some voters to have to give up and leave. While there were a few states that did worse, (and you saw those on the news) most did better.

Lines were often made longer because people went to the wrong polls, because Massachusetts is one of only 5 states that does not have a website where voters can go to see where they are registered to vote.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s is not tied to voters’ individual records, and depends on voters knowing where they are registered.

With 1 in 10 voters moving to a new home each year, and 1 in 3 voters only participating every 4 years, folks get the wrong info from, leading to chaos at the polls.

Poll workers, faced with a voter who is in the wrong location, then call their city hall to find the right location, and do their best to provide directions to get the frustrated voter to the right place. Phone lines at city and town halls across Massachusetts were routinely busy and/or had long hold times throughout the day as people sought information that is available online in virtually every other state. Many voters who last voted in 2006 or 2004 were stunned to discover that their voter registrations had been deleted from the system, leaving them no opportunity to vote.

Of course, the easiest way to prevent these problem would be to let people fix problems and register at the site closest to their home, on Election Day. All around Massachusetts, states are doing a better job keeping their voter records up to date. New York lets its voters register online. Vermont let people register up until Halloween (Massachusetts stops new registrations 20 days before the election). Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine all have some version of Election Day voter registration.

Lines were also lengthened because Massachusetts has extremely restrictive rules around absentee voting, and Massachusetts does not have early voting, which can work well when there are early voting hours on weekends and evenings that help workers and parents vote. If you are a busy worker in Massachusetts, you are not legally allowed to vote absentee if you will be in the town where you are registered to vote for even one minute on Election Day, regardless of the number of hours you have to work. Around the nation, early voting has been far from perfect. In fact, many early voters themselves waited three or four hours to vote. But if there are enough early voting stations, and those stations are open for enough hours, and adequately staffed, early voting can be a part of the solution.

Lastly, lines were lengthened because in Massachusetts, unlike 49 other states, large numbers of election staff and a significant amount of election administration money are devoted to unnecessary tasks.

  • Ours is the only state that requires a police officer at every polling place, all day. (Usually, the police detail costs about as much as all of the other poll workers combined).
  • And ours is the only state that requires voters to “check out” by stating their name and address a second time, to a second set of workers, moments after they just “checked in” to the polling place.

The expensive detail and the misallocation of workers — all required by archaic state law — mean that city and town election officials lack the flexibility and the resources to put more people on the tasks that need doing most.

  • And Massachusetts is the only state that requires an extra “cancellation device” attached to our voting machines, an attachment that is jerry-rigged and often causes problems for election workers.

In one way, Massachusetts is lucky. The local city and town clerks who run our elections want to help everyone vote — in some states, administrators are actually trying to suppress the vote. But at the statewide level, there comes a time when failing to innovate, decade after decade, creates shameful burdens on voters.

Let’s be clear. Long lines equal voter suppression. A 2 hour line to vote will inevitably mean that some people can’t vote. We must do better.



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