BOSTON (CN) – Representing Massachusetts voters who registered too late to cast ballots in the 2016 election, an attorney kicked off a trial Wednesday on the state’s 20-day registration cutoff.
“Each election these statutes bar thousands of qualified Massachusetts citizens from voting,” Ropes & Gray attorney Kirsten Mayer told the Suffolk County Superior Court.
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Chelsea Collaborative and MassVote, Mayer brought a complaint just days ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Because her clients missed the voter-registration deadline, it took a court order for the state to count their provisional ballots in mid-November.
Though the challengers call the deadline arbitrary, attorneys for the state argued that the law is sufficient to meet the needs of new voters.
“Today voting in Massachusetts is flexible and accessible,” said Juliana Dehaan Rice, of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Rice added that the deadline also ensures that town and city clerks have the time they need to verify information on voter-registration forms. Furthermore she said the issue of the state’s voter-registration schedule is more appropriate for the legislature, rather than the judiciary, to determine.
On behalf of challengers Edma Ortiz and Rafael Sanchez, attorney Mayer pointed out that new voters will wait until right before the election to register, in part because deciding to vote is part of the process of deciding who to vote for.
A third voter behind the original challenge, Wilyeliz Nazario Leon, dropped his stake in the case in March.
Judge Douglas Wilkins is presiding over the bench trial, which is expect to run through Friday.
In addition to Mayer, the plaintiffs are represented by Matthew Segal, Jessie Rossman and Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU of Massachusetts; Sean Young and Dale Ho of the ACLU; and Ropes & Gray attorneys Patrick Welsh and Nicholas Bradley.
“Massachusetts citizens who are otherwise eligible to vote but who register fewer than 20 days before an election are barred from voting in that election,” they argued in a pretrial brief. “Even when a local election official has received and could otherwise process the registration forms before voting begins, these citizens are disenfranchised and unable to participate in the electoral process.”