BOSTON (AP) — Three Massachusetts residents who failed to meet the state requirement to register to vote at least 20 days before an election can cast provisional ballots, a judge ruled Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the constitutionality of the law, arguing that the registration cutoff results in the “arbitrary disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible voters.”READ MORE: I-Team: High School Failure Rates In Massachusetts Jumped During Pandemic
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas H. Wilkins ruled that the three residents, including one woman who missed the registration deadline because of the sudden death of her mother in Puerto Rico, can cast provisional ballots.
Wilkins did not rule on the law itself but said there’s evidence to conclude “there is no rational reason to impose a 20-day deadline for Election Day voting, when a much shorter time period applies to registration before early voting.”
Massachusetts allowed early voting for the first time this year. The first day voters could cast a ballot was Oct. 24 — five days after the Oct. 19 registration cutoff.
Wilkins also said that both sides have a “substantial likelihood” of winning the case, but denying the three voters the ability to cast provisional ballots would cause irreparable harm.
Provisional ballots are sealed in an envelope and kept separate from other ballots until the voter’s eligibility can be determined.
Wilkins said if the court ultimately upholds the 20-day registration deadline, the three provisional ballots can be disregarded. But if the court rules in favor of the voters, they could not retroactively vote if they were denied the option of casting provisional ballots.
The ruling only applies to the three individuals named in the lawsuit.READ MORE: 'Had A Heart Of Gold': Construction Worker Killed In Newton Identified As Russell Harron
Secretary of State William Galvin, the state’s top elections official, declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday, but he said he would support same-day voter registration in Massachusetts if it were done in an “orderly fashion.”
Such a system would require the Legislature to appropriate additional funding to allow officials at each polling place to tap into a centralized database to determine if a person who wants to register on the day of the election is actually a resident of the community they are attempting to vote in, Galvin said.
“You need that kind of system to protect the integrity of the election and I believe that can be done,” said Galvin, a Democrat.
Bills calling for same-day voter registration have come before lawmakers in the past, but have not advanced.
Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said Monday that she believes the 20-day registration deadline is constitutional but also backs efforts to expand voting opportunities in Massachusetts.
“I fully support same-day voter registration and am willing to work with the Legislature and Secretary Galvin’s office to change the rules for upcoming elections,” Healey said in statement. “We need to make the political process and participation in democracy as accessible as possible for all eligible voters.”
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Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.