To the Editor:
We should make permanent several of the highly successful election protection measures introduced during the pandemic, including expansions to vote-by-mail and early in-person voting. While these measures are necessary, they won’t be sufficient to remove long standing barriers to ballot access that predate the pandemic.
During the 2020 election, a record 3.7 million votes were cast in Massachusetts with over half being early or mail-in ballots. In that year, 43 states, including D.C., had universal vote-by-mail and 45 states had expanded mail-in voting availability. Same-day registration is currently used in 21 states, including D.C.
The VOTES Act (S. 459/H. 805)— filed in the Massachusetts Legislature— would implement essential new measures that would ensure free, fair, and equitable elections in the Commonwealth, including jail-based voting reforms. About 7,000-9,000 residents are held pretrial or on misdemeanor convictions every year and without these reforms, Massachusetts will not be doing all that we can to ensure that every eligible voter can actually cast a ballot in practice.
Many incarcerated people are also eligible voters who must have meaningful access to the ballot. At a local jail, 13 out of 300-400 eligible voters cast a ballot last fall, and the VOTES Act would help increase participation in this area.
I urge you to contact your state representative and senator to support the VOTES Act in its entirety. Given the threats our democracy has faced this past year, Massachusetts must do everything it can to protect voting rights in the next election, making it equitable for all.
Matthew J. Shochat