Less than a year after the state approved automatic voter registration, some lawmakers on Beacon Hill are advocating to allow eligible residents to register and vote on election day — a change they say would be the “final step” to ensure all those who can vote could access the ballot box.
Attorney General Maura Healey, Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin, and some lawmakers testified in favor of the measure — one of several changes to state voting laws discussed Thursday on Beacon Hill — that would allow same-day registration for both primary and general elections. Some of the bills being heard would also allow same-day registration at early voting locations.
Voters must register at least 20 days before election day in Massachusetts. Last August, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a measure that automatically registers eligible voters when they get their driver’s licenses or health insurance through the state — a move that aimed to add hundreds of thousands of people to the rolls.
But the same-day registration measure faces some key opposition on Beacon Hill. Baker has argued the process would be cumbersome for smaller communities to verify residencies on election day.
Healey, a proponent of registering on election day, said in her testimony that 15 percent of eligible voters in the state were not registered, which means “fewer people of color, low-income residents, renters, and young people participating in the process.”
“My message today is simple — voting rights are civil rights,” Healey said. “By increasing participation among people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to vote, we’ll be taking a stand against the apathy and frustration that makes thousands of people opt out of the system all together.”
Galvin said he was “very grateful” for the adoption of automatic voter registration, and same-day registration is the “final step” to ensuring everyone who can vote will have the opportunity to do so.
As the state’s chief elections officer, Galvin successfully fought a 2016 lawsuit that challenged Massachusetts’ 20-day rule. At the time, he said he supported same-day registration but argued that removing the rule via a court decision would create “administrative chaos.”
In January 2018, Galvin announced his proposal for registering on election day that he said would eliminate administrative headaches.
And though Healey and Galvin have expressed their support for the measure, others — including Baker — are not on board yet.
“Governor Baker was proud to sign legislation allowing for automatic voter registration, supports early voting and does not support same-day voter registration given the burden it would place on smaller communities to verify residency on Election Day,” a Baker spokesman, Terry MacCormack, wrote in an e-mail.
Rahsaan D. Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, testified on Thursday that passing same-day registration would ensure those who are most affected by registration barriers could have a say in the political process.
“Historically, wealthier people, people with higher levels of education are the ones who consistently register and vote,” Hall said. “But that does not mean that people with lower income or lower levels of education do not have the same interest and desire to participate fully in our democracy.”
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to adopt same-day registration, including Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.