BOSTON — Josh Zakim, a Democrat challenging Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, on Tuesday proposed a series of reforms aimed at boosting voter turnout – including requiring weekend elections.
“As your secretary of state, I guarantee you turnout will increase,” Zakim said at a press conference outside the Statehouse.
Galvin, a Democrat, was first elected Secretary of the Commonwealth in 1994 and has won six successive four-year terms.
Galvin shot back that he has a record of accomplishing the things that Zakim, a Boston city councilor, is advocating. “It’s great to stand outside on the steps,” Galvin said. “Why don’t you come in and talk to the Legislature? He’s never been at a hearing for same-day (voter registration). I have a same-day proposal. … He’s never run an election or administered an election.”
Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, filed a bill Tuesday to require state primaries and presidential primaries to be held over two days, with voting on both Saturday and Sunday. The two days would be established because both days come with religious conflicts. His bill would also establish mandatory early voting for primaries so people could vote on weekdays.
Livingstone, who endorsed Zakim’s campaign, said he developed the idea together with Zakim, and after working in the Northern Mariana Islands, where election day was on Saturday. Livingstone said the goal is “to allow for more flexible schedules.”
“In Massachusetts, you would get a higher percentage of people voting if you had weekend voting, but then also early voting to go with that,” Livingstone said.
Zakim said he supports weekend elections. “In the last nearly quarter century since Secretary Galvin’s been in office, a lot has changed in our lives,” Zakim said. “People are busier, they have busier lives, they’re working longer hours, commuting further, and it’s not always easy for people to get to the polls on Tuesday. There’s no reason to have this arbitrary date be the only time you can vote.”
Galvin said Massachusetts already has weekend voting through the state’s early voting law, which was implemented for the first time in 2016. Galvin’s office provided grants to cities and towns to open the polls on weekends. But he said weekend voting may not work for every town because of the need to use public buildings, which are generally closed on weekends.
Zakim also supports same-day voter registration. A lawsuit pending before the Supreme Judicial Court challenges the state’s voter registration cutoff. Zakim criticized Galvin for appealing that lawsuit.
Zakim said he would withdraw the appeal and work with the Legislature on instituting same-day voter registration. “We should not be fighting these old-time delay tactics to continue to keep these barriers in place,” Zakim said.
Galvin in January offered a proposal for same-day voter registration, which would include electronically connecting each polling place so poll workers can check whether someone is registered or already voted elsewhere.
Galvin said he has always supported same-day voter registration, as long as money is set aside to pay for it.
Zakim said he believes the state can ensure voting security the same way other states do, by requiring same-day registrants to show photo identification and proof of residency. Zakim estimated that allowing same-day voting registration would cost the state $1.5 million.
Massachusetts held early voting for the first time in 2016, and Zakim wants to expand that. He also wants to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Current law requires someone requesting an absentee ballot to state that they will be out of town on Election Day or they have a disability or religious reason why they cannot vote on Election Day.
“Who are we to say to someone you have to have a legitimate excuse not to be here?” Zakim said. “If you have a right to vote, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, not putting up these barriers.”
Galvin said no-excuse absentee voting already exists, since the state’s new early voting law lets people vote early by mail.
Zakim called the proposals “commonsense voting reforms” that have all been implemented in other states.
Although some proposals have been introduced before in the Legislature, Zakim said he thinks having a more activist secretary of state pushing for the reforms could make a difference. “When we have a secretary who is reluctant at best to support many of these issues, that’s an important signal to many of other elected officials,” Zakim said.
Galvin responded that unlike Zakim, he knows how to work with lawmakers. “If you’re serious about these things, you go to hearings, participate in the process,” Galvin said. “I am serious. I have actually achieved such things as early voting, online voter registration because I know how to work the Legislature and make my case, which is why I’m here.”
Zakim also criticized Galvin for setting the date of the 2018 state primary for the Tuesday after Labor Day. Galvin said he chose that date with public input to avoid conflicting with Jewish holidays. Zakim says that will depress turnout.
Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering implementing automatic voter registration, in which people are automatically enrolled to vote when they complete a transaction at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Galvin is expected to come out in favor of that effort at a press conference scheduled for later this week.
Zakim supports the proposal.