The state’s highest court will consider whether the rule requiring Bay State voters to register at least 20 days ahead of an election is constitutional.
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed last month to consider whether the requirement — which was shot down by Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins over the summer — is permissible. Lawyers for the Attorney General’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union, who have battled over the rule, banded together to ask the SJC to consider the question.
“The question presented in this case — whether the Commonwealth may constitutionally require by statute that voters be registered 20 days before an election in order to vote in that election — is of exceptional public importance, affecting the manner in which elections are managed in each of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns, and also directly affecting the thousands of voters who register to vote in Massachusetts every year,” attorneys for both sides wrote in a joint filing.
The case started just before the November 2016 election, when three individuals and two voting-rights organization filed suit, arguing that the registration deadline was unconstitutional. The three voters sought an emergency injunction that would allow them to vote despite the fact that they missed the deadline.
Wilkins granted their request, and in July ruled the 20-day deadline was unconstitutional.
“The Legislature may pass laws that are necessary to ensure voters’ qualifications or to ensure election security and order,” he wrote. “The evidence overwhelmingly shows no such necessity for the Massachusetts registration cutoff.”
In a statement, Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said she was pleased the SJC agreed to hear the case and that it “is important to the future of the democratic process in Massachusetts.”
Attorney General Maura Healey, charged with defending the requirement, said she supports same-day registration but believes the Legislature has the right to set deadlines.
“This case is about whether the Constitution allows the Legislature to set a 20-day deadline for voter registration, and I believe it does,” she said in a statement. “I stand ready to work with the Legislature and Secretary (William) Galvin’s office to make changes to that law to ensure that participation in democracy is as accessible as possible for all eligible voters.”