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Editorial: Voter reforms a move forward

Massachusetts’ lawmakers are attempting to invigorate interest in voting with a series of reforms.

The reforms put forth by the House and Senate in separate bills would make it much easier for citizens to register to vote and subsequently cast their ballot. That makes sense, particularly as part of an attempt to boost the willingness of residents to participate in the election process.

One reform would allow for “early voting,” whereby each community would establish a polling place — up to 10 days before the election date — where residents could go to cast ballots in statewide elections or primaries.

And the Senate also wants to let people who aren’t registered show up at their polling place, register and cast their ballot. This would eliminate the existing voter requirement of having to register at least 20 days in advance of an election. The Senate bill also includes a provision that would allow preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, to encourage them to vote once they are old enough.

These reforms aren’t just about getting people to the polls ... they’re also about ensuring the honesty and soundness of the process by requiring post-election audits of voting equipment.

“The last time the Senate took up such a major reform package I was Senate chairman of the Election Laws Committee,” says state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg. That was 20 years ago, and, the Amherst Democrat recalls, “that was when we implemented ‘Motor Voter’ registration. This bill takes a number of steps toward the goal of making voting as simple and as streamlined as possible.”

Given Massachusetts’ pivotal role in creating our democracy and our nation, improvements to getting people to vote and participate in process should be a given.

Unfortunately, the state finds itself playing catch up to others in modernizing its voter laws, updates that have gotten more people to vote. And while some of these improvements will mean changes for town clerks and poll workers, that can’t be seen as the reason not to move forward.

But a word of caution: While we appreciate what the House and Senate are doing here, these reforms are not a cure-all. Candidates, their supporters and the political parties must do a better job of connecting with voters and energizing them.

Even with these reforms, however, voter participation will follow the old saying: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

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