By Colneth Smiley Jr Assistant Director of Communications Action for Boston Community Development, Inc.
While the Massachusetts Legislature strives to implement a state wide system for voter registration following the Massachusetts Superior Court’s decision to rule the current 20-day voter registration deadline as unconstitutional, Action for Boston Community Development stands with the Boston City Council and the Special Committee on Civil Rights in organizing a hearing on the issue to attain Election Day Voter Registration in the City of Boston.
The majority of the Boston City Council recently backed District 8 Councilor Josh Zakim in filing an order for a hearing to explore automatic registration in effort to grant Boston residents easier access to voting. Alongside MassVOTE, the Boston City Elections Department and other key advocate groups, ABCD will be at the hearing (scheduled for early autumn) to testify the importance of accessible voting registration on behalf of the community we serve.
True to our mission to empower the disadvantaged, ABCD identified the 20-day voter registration deadline as disenfranchising to thousands, particularly low-income residents and minority groups as a form of voter suppression. We continue to urge our legislators to reject the current 20-day voter registration cutoff law and endorse same day/Election Day voter registration.
On Monday, July 24, 2017 Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins stated, “disenfranchising a qualified citizen because he or she did not register at least 20 days before the election exceeds the bounds of Legislature’s authority and violates the Massachusetts Constitution,” adding that there is “no such necessity for the Massachusetts registration cutoff.”
The 20-day voter registration cutoff denied potential voters their right to vote as citizens of this city, Commonwealth, and nation. It prevented thousands from casting their ballots in the elections, which in turn, left and discouraged underrepresented groups from participating in the elections and voting process.
Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin, which challenged the states’ voter registration cutoff, indicated specifically that 4,403 Boston voters were not able to participate in the 2016 Presidential Primary because they registered less than 20 days prior to the election. Low-income residents and people of color were unaware of and defrauded by the voter cutoff law.
ABCD supports the importance of this issue, and agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in letting thousands of voters – including low-income and minority groups, have a fair chance in registering to vote and participating in the electoral system. ABCD wants every citizen and potential voters to have a right in choosing their political representatives and legislation.
“Minority communities are left at a disadvantage when it comes to voting and our current registration laws,” said John Drew, President/CEO of ABCD, advocating for the less affluent communities of the state. “Residents that cannot afford to stay stable and often relocate or move because of hardships are at a disadvantage. Add to that isolation, lack of education, technology, and lack of convenience and these working class communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to electing our leaders and voting for laws that impact their neighborhoods and families. About 5,000 citizens registered but were unable to vote because they didn’t make a deadline 20 days ahead of the last election. That just isn’t fair,” said Drew. “It’s time to see this change.”
In Boston, during the 2016 presidential election, neighborhoods with predominately low-income residents and citizens of color – Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester – saw a large decrease in voter turnout. Meanwhile, voter turnout increased in more affluent neighborhoods – including Allston/Brighton, parts of Back Bay, South Boston, Fenway and Savin Hill. This statistic, sourced in Commonwealth Magazine (“Boston’s Presidential Election Numbers” – Nov. 29, 2016), indicates that only 65.5% of registered voters participated in the last presidential election.
On September 26, 2017, the City of Boston will conduct preliminary municipal elections. On Nov. 7, 2017, general municipal elections will be held for the City of Boston. As of now, the last day to respectively register for the elections is September 6, and October 18, 2017.
ABCD urges all to consistently learn as much as they can about the democratic process, and the importance of voting. “Voter suppression is ongoing. There is a constant need to refresh our laws and politicians, and keep active a continuous legislative process,” said Drew. “All people need to be welcomed in exercising their right to vote!”
To learn more about voter registration, elections, and citizen rights to vote, visit BostonABCD.org
About ABCD: A Massachusetts-based nonprofit human services organization, ABCD provides low-income residents in the Boston and Mystic Valley areas with the tools, support and resources they need to transition from poverty to stability and from stability to success.