Would Voter-Expansion VOTES Act Create A Less-Informed Electorate? Advocates Won’t Say

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/02/10/would-voter-expansion-votes-act-create-a-less-informed-electorate-advocates-wont-say/

Voting rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers want to expand voting access in future elections in Massachusetts, as they did with 2020 elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But would the changes lead to a less informed electorate?

Polls in recent years have shown that much of the general public does not even know the names of the people who represent them in government, let alone the people running against them. For example, a poll released by Johns Hopkins University in 2018 found that about one in three voters can’t name their governor, and four out of five did not know who represented their district in the state legislature. Meanwhile, a 2017 survey from Haven Insights found that just 37 percent of Americans knew who their Congressman was in the U.S. House of Representatives. And in 2015, a Fusion poll showed that 77 percent of millennials could not name a single U.S. senator from their home state. It’s unclear what percentage of people know who sits on their county commission, who their county treasurer is, and the names of their town’s elected officials.

In Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin reportedly plans to file a bill this month called the VOTES Act that would make changes to the way people vote. Among other things, it would make mail-everyone-a-ballot permanent, expand in-person early voting, establish same-day voter registration in Massachusetts, and let eligible voters update their voting information at the polls on Election Day before voting, as NBC Boston reported early Wednesday morning.

Also on Wednesday morning, February 10, a coalition supporting the bill held a press conference over Zoom on the bill. Participants included state Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), state Representative John Lawn (D-Watertown), and members of an umbrella group called the Election Modernization Coalition,, which includes Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Voter Table, MASSPIRG, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. 

A NewBostonPost reporter got the first question in the press conference and asked:  “Is there any concern that a bill like this when there’s been many polls that show people don’t know who their governor is, a lot of people don’t know who their state rep and state senator, that you might have a less informed electorate as a result?”

No one on the panel jumped at the opportunity to take the question.

Seeing that no one else wanted to speak, Geoff Foster, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, who acted as the host of the event, gave a response, but did not address the question.

“I think there’s a lot of confidence that the VOTES Act is a very logical next step that the legislature can take given that in 2018 passing a comprehensive civic education bill. I know there a lot of groups and young people that worked with the legislature to get that done, and we’re just starting to see that implemented in classrooms across the commonwealth,” Foster said. “So I think we’re really excited to not just see that we’re reducing barriers, but that also this is in tandem with great legislation to make sure that our next generation of voters is well-informed.”

As Foster noted, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed  S2631, An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement into law three years ago.

“This new law will make it a requirement for Massachusetts public high schools and school districts serving eighth-grade students to provide at least one student-led, non-partisan civics project for each student,” a press release from the governor’s office said about that bill at the time.

“This bill also creates a Civics Project Trust Fund, which will be used to assist Massachusetts communities with implementing history and civics education state requirements, particularly in underserved communities,” the governor’s statement also said.

Supporters of this voting expansion proposal say that it is a vital way to improve civic engagement, especially in low-income and minority communities. They also say it’s a way to ensure that more Americans have a chance to make their voice heard and have someone in office who represents their values.

Critics of mail-in voting argue that it is a less secure way to cast a ballot, is susceptible to fraud, and that  a lack of reliability from the United States Postal Service makes it harder to ensure that every valid vote cast counts.