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Baker says RMV can handle automatic voter registration

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that he believes the state can install automatic voter registration with a “fairly high degree of integrity” at its Registry of Motor Vehicles. But the Republican stopped short of endorsing legislation that cleared the House and the Senate and could automatically register thousands of new voters in the next few years.

Under the bill, which the chambers have yet to send to Baker, eligible voters would be registered to vote when they get their driver’s licenses through the RMV or health insurance through the state, unless they choose to opt out. It also would allow the secretary of state to reach agreements with other state agencies to register eligible residents.

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But Baker voiced concerns about implementing the changes through the state’s MassHealth program, saying he prefers it serve as a “supplemental support” in the process at the RMV.

“There are big issues associated with trying to put the laws and the rules associated with the Affordable Care Act together with the laws and rules associated with who gets to vote,” Baker told reporters Friday at the State House.

“But the Registry really needs to be — from our point of view — the point of access to the secretary of state,” he said. “They actually do some of the things that these guys either can’t do or aren’t allowed to do.”

The Senate and the House have to iron out changes to the bill’s language, including suggestions Baker said he made, before approving the final bill and sending it to Baker’s desk.

Baker said a new computer system the Registry installed in March to comply with federal Real ID standards, in which drivers must now produce documents confirming their US citizenship or lawful presence, is a big step toward helping implement automatic voter registration.

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Under the bill, a state agency that automatically registers voters must collect “reliable citizenship information.”

“I’ll tell you this, the implementation of the new platform that we installed . . . makes it possible, I believe for the Commonwealth, to serve in a role like this with a fairly high degree of integrity that did not exist before,” Baker said.

If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts would join 13 other states and the District of Columbia to pass or implement automatic voter registration.


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com.