It was an amazing moment; sitting in the Senate Gallery, awaiting the debate on election reform. A disappointing bill had come over from the House but Chairman Barry Finegold, his Chief of Staff, Caitriona Fitzgerald, and the entire Election Modernization Coalition had worked hard to improve it with pre-registration and better early voting provisions. In addition, we had lined up an unusual but powerfully diverse array of amendment sponsors led by Senator Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston to file post-election audits, election day registration and, at the last minute, permanent registration which allows one's registration to move automatically with one's mailing address.
We settled in for a long afternoon. 54 amendments had been initially filed, including several calling for voter ID which we opposed.
But suddenly, in less than two hours, a nanosecond for the Senate, it was all over.
- Post-election audits passed on a voice vote.
- Election Day Registration passed 30-8 (Democrats voting "no" - Keenan, D. Moore, R. Moore, Timilty)
- Even permanent registration passed 28-10 (Democrats voting "no" - Joyce, Keenan, Kennedy, D. Moore, R. Moore, O'Connor-Ives)
- And then the final vote - a substantially improved election reform bill - perhaps the best in the nation - passed overwhelmingly - 37 -1 (only Hedlund voting "no")
Many have asked - how did it happen? what factors led to such an substantial victory?
Several come to mind:
- The coalition (ACLU Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, MassVOTE, the MA Voter Table, the MIRA Coalition, and Progressive Massachusetts) worked hard for over a year building a strong sense that election reform's "time had come". In the last month alone, we called on 25 Senators, some more than once.
- Over-reaching by Republicans at the Federal level and outrage over the Supreme Court's decision on pre-clearance clearly helped to move Democratic support - even from more moderate Dems.
- Speculation that Senate President Murray is looking to build her legacy. We disagree with her on welfare reform but with that, minimum wage and now election reform, it is obvious she is trying to do big things.
- A sense that the Senate could and should be bold perhaps because the House hadn't been and a compromise would need to be struck in conference.
Special recognition must go to Ben Wright for rounding up 20 votes in support of EDR last spring - and for pushing constantly to ensure the coalition stretched for the largest, most comprehensive bill possible rather than settling for the least they could get.
We now move to conference committee and await the naming of conferees. Stay tuned - and stay ready to have your voices heard again.