Zakim Proposes Common-Sense Voting Changes to Increase Turnout

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

BOSTON – In the first of a series of policy positions to be unveiled in the coming months, Secretary of State candidate Josh Zakim today unveiled a package of common-sense proposals that take aim at reversing the nearly two-decade trend of declining voter turnout in the Commonwealth.

The proposals include allowing elections to be scheduled on weekends, enabling voters to register on Election Day and increasing the period of early voting. He is also recommending scrapping the requirement that eligible voters need a qualifying excuse to be eligible for an absentee ballot.

“My campaign is about opening access to government for everyone, and that starts with making it easy and convenient to vote,” Zakim said. “We have seen a drastic decline in voter turnout since 2002. With voting rights under assault from the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress, it is more important than ever that they be protected and increased at the state level. These are simple and common-sense steps that, frankly, should already be in place.”

The number of voters who have turned out for state primaries in non-presidential election years peaked in 2002 when more than one million people (26 percent of all registered voters) went to the polls. But it has decreased steadily since, and most recently, in 2014, the turnout was just over 700,000 people (16.8 percent).

“That means 300,000 fewer people are having their voices heard,” Zakim said. “That is unacceptable. We need to make it easier for people to register to vote and then get to the polls. That’s why I’m offering these common-sense proposals.”

The proposals include:

Weekend Voting: Zakim suggested Secretary of State Galvin consider scheduling this year’s state primary for a weekend in mid-September when he was soliciting feedback about potential dates. He opted instead to hold it for the day after Labor Day, the first time in the 124-year history of the holiday that it has been held then. “When trying to figure out why voter turnout is so low, you only have to look at people working multiple jobs, juggling child care and commitments at home, as well as myriad other responsibilities,” Zakim said. “I support legislation pending in the State House that would allow for elections to be held on weekends.” Currently, 70 countries around the world have weekend voting – about 57 percent of all democracies.

Election Day Registration: Fifteen states currently allow voters to register on the same day as the election, including Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire. In 2017’s Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin lawsuit, Suffolk Superior Court called the Massachusetts 20-day registration deadline arbitrary and unconstitutional. “Instead of working with the Legislature to find a constitutionally-sound solution, Secretary Galvin has appealed the decision, opting to let the status quo prevail for another election cycle,” Zakim said. “We need Election Day Registration, and we should have it in place for this year’s elections.”

Early Voting: While Massachusetts was late to embrace early voting, the five-day period that was allowed before the 2016 election showed promise. Zakim supports expanding it for the 2018 election cycle. Secretary Galvin’s proposal, however, would be for five days of early voting during the last week of August, an ineffective time when many people are on vacation or beginning the new school year. “Holding the primary on the day after Labor Day is a cynical maneuver designed only to depress turnout and strengthen the status quo,” Zakim said. “Scheduling elections and the early voting period that goes with it should be done in a way to ensure the most people possible have a chance to get to the polls.”

No Excuse Absentee Voting: Currently, a voter needs to prove they’ll be out of town on Election Day, have a physical disability that prevents them from getting to their polling place or have a religious belief that prohibits them from voting on that particular day. “What about the people who are too busy at their job, or working several jobs, or caring for children, or parents, or grandchildren?” Zakim asked. “Or voters who have limited access to transportation? Those people aren’t covered by the allowable excuses. We need to open up absentee ballots to any eligible voter who wants to get one. Requiring someone to provide a reason for not being able to vote on Election Day is just another barrier to allowing someone to exercise their most sacred right.”