To register to vote, Massachusetts residents need not budge from their computer screens.
A website for online registration was launched Tuesday, Secretary of State William Galvin announced at a State House news conference. Residents can use the site to register to vote, change their names and addresses for voter registration purposes, and enroll or change enrollment in a political party.
“This is the first step in a cycle to participate in the 2016 election. It’s a great step forward,” Galvin said.
Online registration was one of several election measures approved by lawmakers last year. The legislation also included early voting, the preregistration of 16-year-olds, and postelection audits of voting machines.
Massachusetts is the 21st state to implement online voter registration, Galvin’s spokesman Brian McNiff said in a statement.
Arizona was the first state to try online registration in 2002. Since then, it has experienced a boost in registration rates by younger voters, said Sara Brady, policy director at the Massachusetts Voter Education Network. In a 2013 report conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, online accessibility boosted Arizona registration rates for 18- to 24-year-olds from 29 percent in 2002 to 48 percent in 2004, and 53 percent in 2008.
According to Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, “Can I do it online?” is a common question among the younger employees at her consumer advocacy organization.
“With young people these days, that’s the first thing they ask,” Domenitz said. “If the answer is no, they walk away.” However, for voter registration, she said, “the answer is now yes.”
The online portal will also help voters reregister when they move to a new community. Galvin estimates 100,000 Massachusetts residents move and fail to reregister in time for presidential elections.
As of Tuesday, voters can now check their registration status online.
The site is also accessible to Spanish and Chinese speakers.
In addition to increasing registration rates by being more accessible, the online program leaves less room for clerical errors, Galvin said.
Under the new program, the information residents submit online will be verified by matching information in the Registry of Motor Vehicles database. Voters who don’t have a Registry ID can complete a form to be mailed to a local election official.
Galvin said “minor tweaks” to the website must still be addressed. He said, for instance, he wants to move the Independent Party higher in the menu for political designations, in order to differentiate it from other entities with “independent” in their title.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said she is extremely pleased with the implementation of online registration, but said the drive to modernize election practices is ongoing.
“Massachusetts is woefully behind in our election laws,” Wilmot said. Election-day registration, offered in 10 states and Washington, D.C., has not been enacted here, she noted.
While Galvin is interested in same-day registration, procuring the technology could be difficult, he said.
“The Legislature has not authorized it. You have to have administrative support” to handle election-day registrations, Galvin said. “One of the frequent criticisms is it could lead to fraud, since voters could register in multiple locations for the same election.”
To see the site, click here.