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Class Contests Massachusetts Voter Deadline

BOSTON (CN) - Two voter-turnout organizations and three self-proclaimed disenfranchised voters have brought a court challenge to a Massachusetts law that cuts off voter registration nearly three weeks before Election Day.

The lead plaintiff in the Nov. 1 class action is the Chelsea Collaborative, named for an economically depressed suburb of Boston, not the daughter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

With Election Day one week away, the complaint says Edma Ortiz, Wilyeliz Nazario Leon and Rafael Sanchez all missed the Oct. 19 deadline to register to vote.

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Ropes & Gray are representing the would-be voters, Chelsea Collaborative and MassVote in the action, which is pending in Suffolk County Superior Court.

The commonwealth's 20-day registration-cutoff law is over 20 years old. Chelsea Collaborative says the statute has prevented thousands of potential voters from participating in major recent political decisions.

"Each election, the consequences for these voters are dire," the complaint states. "In 2014, it meant missing the opportunity to vote for a new governor who would not only lead the executive branch but also appoint five new justices to the Supreme Judicial Court. In the upcoming election, it would mean being unable to vote for president and on several important ballot questions, including charter schools, marijuana legalization and the expansion of gambling in the commonwealth."

Voters will take to the polls on Nov. 8 to choose either Clinton or Republican nominee Donal Trump as the nation's next president.

Hoping to participate "in this historic election," the plaintiffs want the Massachusetts law declared unconstitutional and an injunction blocking its enforcement.

Rahsaan Hall, director of ACLUM's Racial Justice Program, slammed the voter-registration law as archaic in a statement.

"Especially in the electronic age, voter registrations can be processed much faster than 20 days," Hall said in a statement. "In fact, more than 15 states — including half the states in New England — have established election-day registration. But in Massachusetts, our nearly three-week 'Voter Cutoff Law' continues to disenfranchise thousands of voters in every single election."

MassVOTE says the law also causes it a financial strain since it must split its voter-registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns into two separate operations.

"We work to promote a culture of active political participation with an emphasis on historically disenfranchised communities," MassVOTE Executive Director Cheryl Clyburn Crawford said in a statement. "It's so disappointing when citizens get engaged and excited about civic participation and find out they cannot vote because of the registration cutoff."

A representative for the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office declined to comment.

In addition to the ACLU's Hall, the plaintiffs are represented by Kirsten Mayer with Ropes & Gray.

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