James M. Murphy
State representative, Weymouth Democrat
Every eligible citizen has the right to vote and participate in the most basic aspect of democracy -- elections. As a state representative, I have run in nine elections. Our local election officials do a terrific job; yet, an outdated voter registration system can make it difficult for highly mobile voters to participate. Maintaining up-to-date voter registration is a challenge for military and young families, disabled seniors, and low-income voters. That’s why I have co-sponsored legislation for automatic voter registration, which would help ensure everyone can participate while also improving the accuracy and security of our voting system.
Automatic voter registration automatically registers people to vote or updates their registration information when they interact with a state agency, unless they decline. The information is electronically added to the voter rolls after being double-checked by our local officials. This would provide significant benefits for voters and officials alike, cutting down on paperwork and data entry while modernizing and improving the accuracy of voter rolls.
Ten states have passed automatic voter registration, all with strong bipartisan support. It has been a tremendous success. In Oregon, 230,000 new voters were registered in the first six months, nearly 100,000 voted in November, and 265,000 inaccurate addresses were corrected.
My legislation further improves the accuracy and security of our voting system by joining Massachusetts with 21 others in the Electronic Registration Information Center. The center matches voter data to determine whether someone has moved and is inappropriately still on the voter rolls, or is eligible to vote but has not yet registered. Eligible voters would be contacted and asked to register, and ineligible voters removed.
Massachusetts is the birthplace of American democracy and has historically led the country in civic participation and encouraging people to exercise their right to vote. As House chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, I was proud to help lead major election laws reform in 2014, which included early voting, online voter registration, and pre-registration of younger voters. With automatic voter registration, we can build on that legacy by helping to make sure that nothing stands in the way of an eligible citizen casting a ballot in our elections.
Walpole resident; member of the Republican State Committee; former executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party
Is the voter registration process really so complicated that it affects participation, thus requiring a new, automatic enrollment system? No, it isn’t.
A Massachusetts resident can register to vote online, by mail, or in-person at certain state agencies and municipal offices. The voter registration application form asks for very basic information: your name, address (and previous address if applicable), date of birth, and driver’s license number or last four digits of your Social Security number. Voters must be registered 20 days prior to an election.
Election Day is a very predictable event in the United States for federal and most state elections, falling on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of every November in an even year. In case you don’t know this basic civics fact, you’re reminded with millions of dollars in advertisements, mailers, and phone calls. For context, residents now have about 450 days to register before the 2018 gubernatorial election and almost 1,200 days to register for the 2020 presidential election.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 4.5 million Massachusetts residents were registered to vote in the November 2016 election, yet only 75 percent of those registered cast a ballot. That means well over 1 million registered voters did not participate. In state and local elections, the participation rate is even lower.
There is no compelling need to automatically enroll people to vote when so many of those already registered don’t participate. In addition, automatic enrollment would add a new cost burden on state and local government agencies.
As someone who has worked in politics and government, I get as frustrated as anyone with voter apathy. Voting is a constitutional right that many have sacrificed their lives to protect for us. But the truth is, sometimes people don’t care enough to cast a ballot, or even register, either because they don’t think their vote matters or a disappointment in the choices offered.
We should focus efforts on why people don’t vote, not why they don’t register. Provide a more civil discourse. Offer up respectable candidates. Make sure voters feel that their voices can make a difference. But automatic enrollment? No, thank you.
Last week’s argument: Do Democrats in the Massachusetts Legislature need to be more progressive?
Yes: 74 percent (26 votes)
No: 36 percent (9 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.