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Should Massachusetts adopt an automatic voter registration system?


Lori Ehrlich

State representative, Marblehead Democrat

<b>Lori Ehrlich</b>

At a time when Americans are openly questioning whether or not a foreign adversary interfered with our presidential election, it is not surprising that Americans are focused on the vote. There is truly nothing more fundamental to our democracy and freedom than the secure and accessible right to vote. To that end, I am proud to have cosponsored legislation providing for the Commonwealth to adopt an automatic voter registration system.

We in the Bay State can take pride in the great success of early voting during elections last fall. Yet our outdated registration system negatively impacts voter turnout as an additional hurdle to voting for many, from highly mobile voters to young families. By making the registration process automatic, Massachusetts will remove an unnecessary barrier to voting, the linchpin of democracy.


Current law requires eligible voters to remember to fill out registration forms once they’ve moved, which can be unnecessarily burdensome. The proposed legislation instructs the secretary of state to automatically update a voter’s registration information if that person were, for example, to renew their license at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or inform MassHealth of a change of address. Moreover, the proposed system would automatically register new, eligible voters who would otherwise not have decided to do so, broadening the electorate and producing a stronger representation of the Commonwealth’s populace.

The bill would not change who is eligible, but it would remove layers of bureaucracy and paperwork that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Currently, most registration forms come in right before Election Day. By processing forms throughout the year, automatic voter registration would create administrative efficiency. Massachusetts isn’t the only state that is considering automatic voter registration. Several other states have made the switch. In 2016, not only did Oregon successfully register 230,000 residents, but it also corrected 265,000 inaccurate addresses, thus helping more people vote fairly and efficiently.


Eligible voters in Massachusetts have a constitutional right to vote, and as citizens of a 21st-century democracy we should work to ensure that those who encounter barriers to voting — veterans, active military, senior citizens, and people with disabilities — can make their voices heard. At a time when our politics are deeply divided, when the loudest voices dominate, it is crucial that the foundation of our democracy — voting — is unimpeded.


Dennis J. Galvin

Westford resident; Republican State Committee member

<b>Dennis J. Galvin</b>

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that would automate voter registration. A host of state agencies would automatically obtain and update voter information, forwarding it to municipal clerks and election commissioners, unless the person declines. The intention is to bring some of the nearly 700,000 unregistered voters onto the voting rolls. While that seems like a worthy goal, the real result would be undermining a voter registration system that has long served us well.

The right to vote is a liberty guaranteed to all United States citizens. Liberty clearly implies the right to choose or not choose to do something. This bill is being advanced under the guise of increasing voter participation. But I believe it is really an expensive attempt by the state’s progressives to utilize government agencies to shore up their numbers on the voting rolls.

Under our current longstanding system, people make a conscious decision to go to their city or town clerk to express their desire to register to vote. These clerks have little interaction with the applicant other than to receive their information and process their registration.


Under the proposed legislation, the source of the automated registrations will be an assortment of state agencies to whom people go for services. The point of access for the registration will be a state bureaucrat who will have had some interaction with the prospective registrant, on some matter of a particular interest, such as issuing or updating a driver’s license.

The state Department of Revenue, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Higher Education significantly impact the lives of many people. Interjecting discussions about voting into transactions with these and other agencies, which will involve questions about partisan preference, raise significant concerns about whether or not registrants could be influenced into their choices.

With all the hoopla about Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, it would seem that lessening dependence on automation, as it applies to elections, would be wise. Local control has proven to be effective in safeguarding us from any interference by global hackers. Let’s continue to use it. It is not too much to ask citizens to go to their local city or town clerk and register to vote. Let’s keep the process simple, free, and secure.

LAST WEEK’S ARGUMENT: Should Massachusetts increase its alcohol taxes?

Yes: 10.71% (3 votes)

No: 89.29% (25 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at