February 4, 2016/Weekly Column

Chair McGee Op-Ed on Early Voting

Massachusetts’s voters are looking forward to heading to the polls early for the first time ever next year, thanks to a law advanced by Democratic leadership and signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

As a result, Bay State voters will have 11 days of early voting, which will come as welcome news to busy adults and families juggling work and kids.

Massachusetts becomes the 33rd state where some form of early voting on the books. This is good news for voter participation, which sunk to its lowest levels since World War II during the last midterms, with just 36 percent turnout nationwide.

But the gains from early voting are at danger of being offset by restrictive efforts underway in numerous states.

In New Jersey, where 2014 turnout reached just 30 percent, Gov. Chris Christie recently vetoed an early voting election reform bill, calling it, “thinly-veiled political gamesmanship.”

In North Carolina, the Republican Legislature moved to roll back early voting and same day registration, which voters have enjoyed since 2000. Instead, they added new requirements known to reduce turnout. A judge is set to hear a U.S. Department of Justice challenge to the changes in January, setting the stage for confusion just months before their presidential primary.

These are just a few of many examples of states moving backward rather than forward on such a critical civil rights issue.

This tug-of-war between expanding access and keeping turnout low has become a familiar occurrence each presidential election year. But in this game of political football, the facts are all on one side of the field.

Early voting improves poll worker performance, results in early identification and correction of errors, shortens lines on election day and increases access for all, according to a Brennan Center for Justice nationwide study.

A stressed parent shouldn’t be forced to squeeze one of the year’s most important activities into a 12-hour window. We all know how emergencies and unforeseen events can sidetrack a busy schedule.

Even members of the United States Senate (especially those running for president) have been known to miss votes.

Voter ID requirements negatively impact seniors, students and people of color, all of whom are more likely to lack the requisite Department of Motor Vehicles-issued IDs.

A federal court overturned Texas Voter ID laws, ruling the measures a violation of the 50-year-old Voting Rights Act, as it can discriminate against minority groups.

The usual argument in favor of voter ID is that it prevents fraud at the polls; but research has shown widespread voter fraud is a myth.

A study published in the Washington Post in 2014 found only 31 credible instances of voter fraud since the 2000 elections that could have been prevented by voter ID. That’s out of a total of one billion ballots cast.

Are these grounds to potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters who lack appropriate DMV-issued IDs? Of course not.

Over the past century we have celebrated giving women and minorities the right to vote, and now we’re thankful for new laws, like the one in Massachusetts, which will help voters get to the polls without issue.

Our democratic system has been a model for the world in many regards. Let’s keep making progress on this American success story.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee, D-Lynn, is chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.