Advocates Push Automatic Voter Registration In Massachusetts
BOSTON (AP) — The lackluster turnout in some municipal elections this week has energized advocates hoping to make it easier for people to register to vote.
The activists want state lawmakers to adopt something known as automatic voter registration — a system that automatically updates voters' information whenever they alert one of several state agencies of a change of address or other pertinent change in their status.
The agencies include the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Revenue, MassHealth, the Department of Higher Education, and all public institutions of higher education.
The bill would also let voters waive those updates if they want.
Among the groups backing the change is the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
League Executive Director Meryl Kessler called automatic voter registration "the next logical step in the modernization of the electoral process" in Massachusetts.
She said the change would improve the accuracy of voter rolls, create a more reliable voting system, help control the cost of voter registration and improve the voting process on Election Day.
Supporters said the new system could also help encourage more voters to show up at the polls on Election Day — including the nearly 700,000 eligible citizens not currently registered to vote.
They point to Boston's contested mayor's race on Tuesday, in which turnout was just under 28 percent among city voters.
Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg has indicated support for the idea. Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said an automatic voter registration bill also has at least 81 co-sponsors in the 160-member House.
Massachusetts isn't the first state to consider adopting the change.
Backers of the measure said that in Oregon, the first state to get an automatic voter registration system up and running, 230,000 voters registered in its first six months and that more than 265,000 inaccurate registrations were updated.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have already passed automatic voter registration: California, West Virginia, Alaska, Vermont, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Oregon.
Automatic voter registration isn't the only idea floating around Beacon Hill that could help increase voter registration — and ultimately turnout in future elections.
Another proposal is Election Day registration — or same-day registration — that would let voters register and cast their ballots on Election Day or during the early voting period.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states plus the District of Columbia — including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine — currently offer same-day registration.
The Massachusetts Senate passed a same-day registration bill in 2014.
Either change wouldn't be the first time in recent years that the state has tweaked the way votes are cast in Massachusetts.
Just last year, the state embraced early voting for the first time. The change allowed voters to begin casting ballots Oct. 24, about two weeks before Election Day. More than 1 million Massachusetts voters cast ballots during the early voting period.
Other changes may be on the way.
In July, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled that the Massachusetts requirement that eligible voters register at least 20 days ahead of an election violates the state constitution and potentially disenfranchises thousands of voters.
Wilkins pointed to the state's adoption of early voting last year to argue against the 20-day cutoff noting that voters began casting ballots on Oct. 24, just five days after the Oct. 19 registration cutoff.
Democratic state Secretary William Galvin, who oversees the state's elections, called the decision "ill-considered" at the time and said he planned to appeal the ruling.