BOSTON (CN) – After a bench trial, a state superior court judge ruled Monday that a Massachusetts law requiring voters to register at least 20 days before an election in order to cast a ballot is unconstitutional.
Edma Ortiz, Rafael Sanchez and Wilyeliz Nazario – three voters who failed to register within a 20-day window before the 2016 presidential election – sued just before Election Day, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, or ACLUM, Chelsea Collaborative and MassVote.
The three plaintiffs were allowed to have their votes counted by a court order as provisional ballots after the Nov. 8 election, but two of them continued the case to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Nazario dropped his claim in March.
After a bench trial that began July 5, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins deemed the law in violation of the state constitution on Monday.
"Today is a major victory for democracy in Massachusetts, as the court agreed that the arbitrary 20-day voter registration cutoff law is unconstitutional and disenfranchises thousands of potential voters throughout the Commonwealth every election,” ACLUM Executive Director Carol Rose said in a statement. “As the Trump administration is seeking to limit access to the ballot, Massachusetts should lead nationwide efforts to ensure that everyone has a right to vote. As champions for freedom, the ACLU of Massachusetts is committed to working together with other advocates and the Massachusetts Legislature to protect and expand access to the ballot.”
Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin was the named defendant in the lawsuit, as administrator of voter registration in the state.
His office argued that the 20-day registration cutoff was necessary to ensure that municipalities are not over burdened with last-minute registrations before an election.
The ACLUM was hopeful that Monday’s decision will set a precedent for the rest of country to ease time-based restrictions on voter registration.
“This decision is historic because it sends a message to other states that they cannot infringe on a constitutional right to vote by forcing voters to register several weeks in advance of an election,” staff attorney Alora Thomas-Lundborg said in a statement.
During the bench trial, Galvin’s office argued that the deadline ensures that town and city clerks have the time they need to verify information on voter-registration forms. The state also argued that it was more appropriate for the Legislature to make any necessary changes to the voter-registration law.
Galvin’s office did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on Judge Wilkins’ ruling.
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