Mailing voter registration forms to people on public assistance isn’t part of a partisan plot to help Democrat Elizabeth Warren beat Republican Senator Scott Brown: It’s part of an interim settlement over a lawsuit alleging that Massachusetts consistently failed to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Through the mailings, Massachusetts is taking steps to do what the law requires it to do — encourage voter participation in that great American enterprise known as democracy, including through public-aid agencies. To vote, citizens first must register. Government should do all it can — and all that the law requires — to help achieve that goal.
Yet in the Bay State’s actions, Brown sees a conspiracy to enroll more Democrats who would presumably vote for Warren. The facts do not support his conspiracy theory. The lawsuit was brought in Massachusetts in May, by two voting rights groups that were represented by Demos, a liberal advocacy and public policy organization from New York that has brought similar actions in more than a half-dozen states.
Demos challenged the Bay State’s compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the motor-voter law. It requires states to provide voter registration services at motor vehicle registries and public aid offices. The group decided to bring the suit in Massachusetts after advocates reviewed voter statistics that were obtained in 2011, before Warren entered the race.
It happens, however, that Warren’s 40-year-old daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, chairs the Demos board of trustees, giving Brown more grist for his conspiracy theory. While the mother-daughter connection looks a little cozy, there’s no indication that Demos’s actions were shaped by Warren’s Senate ambitions. Warren’s daughter has not been directly involved in the suit, which was filed on behalf of a Lowell woman who received welfare benefits for 10 years but was never offered a chance to register to vote. Demos has been pursuing similar suits since 2004.
In many other states, Republican-dominated legislatures have been moving in the opposite direction, trying to make the voting process more burdensome either by cancelling early voting or requiring government-issued picture IDs. Those rules — which disproportionately affect poor people, who lack cars and driver’s licenses — are aimed at keeping people away from the polls; in that context, it’s easy to see why Brown would assume that any move to increase registration would be politically motivated.
But even in a politically charged environment, making it easier for qualified voting-age adults to register to vote and making it harder for them to do so are not equivalent: The state government should be doing all it can to increase participation by qualified voters. There’s nothing sinister in Massachusetts’s commitment to send voter registration forms to poor people, especially to remedy its past failure to follow federal law.