LETTER: State Statute Causing Confusion About Voting Status

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Last year there was a lot of confusion on Election Day at the polls because of a Massachusetts Statute. In Watertown, many enrolled voters were marked “INACTIVE” including State Rep. Lawn. In Massachusetts, when you do not send back the city/town census, you are marked “INACTIVE” on the election roll.  However, many Watertown voters did send back the city census, but the business vendor sent them to the wrong place. City Hall did not receive them.

What does it mean if you are marked “INACTIVE”? It means you are an enrolled voter! It means you can vote! It means you do not have to show ID to vote! ID is only needed if you are a first time voter in a Massachusetts town/city or if you do not appear on the election roll. Your status on the election roll changed. Your appearance on the election roll did not change.

Take this example, Tim and Kelly Hart are married, and own and live at 1234 Commonwealth Road in Watertown. In January 2023, they divorce. They continue to reside together at 1234 Commonwealth Road, but now their statues are SINGLE, not MARRIED. Do they live at 1234 Commonwealth Road in Watertown? Yes. Are they residents of Watertown? Yes. Are they responsible for paying Watertown property taxes? Yes. They will continue to appear on the list of residents. The only change is their statues from MARRIED to SINGLE.

Why does Massachusetts do this? The Commonwealth does this to get censuses returned. It is a penalizing method. Massachusetts needs to incentivize instead. Maybe give residents a $25 tax credit on state income tax or a reduction on a license fee. Whatever. Do not punish enrolled voters for a business vendor’s error or any other error.

I have emailed the Election Commission and asked that they put out clear instruction on the INACTIVE status. There is a bill at the state level to resolve this. However, everyone should be informed until that is implemented because the next election, regular or special, is always coming up.

Rita Colafella
Cuba Street, Watertown

9 thoughts on “LETTER: State Statute Causing Confusion About Voting Status

  1. To clarify one thing: an inactive voter does need to show some form of identification to prove that they still live at the address where they are registered. It does NOT need to be a photo ID. The election workers at the precinct will have a list of the forms of identification allowed.

  2. Shame on the vendor, the Census is very important to be returned to the City for a number of reasons. Time for a new vendor, that is where the problem lies!

  3. Not exactly, Paul. The election workers will ask for some form of identification, but if the voter hasn’t brought one, he/she can sign an affirmation of current and continuous residence (a simple form) and then vote.

      • True, Paul. But “challenging” the ballot doesn’t mean the person can’t vote or the vote doesn’t count. It goes in the machine and gets counted like all the other ballots. The challenge only comes into play if there’s a recount.

        The key point is election workers and voters shouldn’t be told people listed as inactive must show identification. We don’t want people who get to the polls at 7:50pm being sent home to get ID and missing the chance to vote.

  4. I would like to believe this is why I got marked as INACTIVE during the last voting cycle. But we did return the census, with both of our names on it, and somehow my spouse remained ACTIVE, while I was marked INACTIVE. We both always vote, and we vote together. It makes no sense.

  5. Per 950 CMR
    52.03(5)(b),
    All inactive voters shall be asked to show suitable identification showing their name and current address, in addition to filling out an affirmation of current and continuous residency.

    Inactive voters who fail to show suitable identification must be allowed to
    vote. However, an election officer shall, and any other person may, challenge their right to vote under M.G.L. c. 54, ยง 85 and 950 CMR 52.03(23). For the purpose of 950 CMR
    52.03(5)(b) suitable identification shall be defined in 950 CMR 52.03(5B).

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