Chairman, Brockton Democratic City Committee
Last summer, Suffolk Superior Court Justice Douglas H. Wilkins found that the state’s requirement that citizens register to vote within 20 days of an election in order to cast a ballot is unconstitutional. The judge did not specify a remedy, but the logical way to undo this needless obstacle to voting is to institute same-day voter registration.
Every election I’ve worked on, I find people unable to vote because they moved and did not change their registration in time -- within 20 days of the election. Unfortunately, too many people do not pay attention to an election until the last few weeks of a campaign when they are beyond the 20-day window, leaving them unable to cast a ballot.
We need to make it easy for people to vote and follow the lead of about 16 states, including Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire, that allow people to register and vote at the same time on election day. Wisconsin and Minnesota have allowed same-day registration since the 1970s and have had consistently high voter turnouts -- more than 70 percent in the 2016 presidential election. Minnesota topped the nation.
Like other states, Massachusetts has an electronic voting registration information system, which would enable it to establish a same-day system.
The cost of implementing same-day voter registration is often one of the primary arguments used by those who oppose it. There might be some additional expenses, but I believe they would be mitigated by a reduction in the number and hence the cost of provisional ballots -- ballots that are cast but not immediately counted because of questions about the voter’s eligibility. Another argument offered against same-day registration is the potential of voter fraud. But The Boston Globe has reported that in 2010 the state of Maine registered 60,000 new voters on election day with no proven claims of fraud.
Massachusetts should not wait to enact same-day voter registration. Our current 20-day cutoff rule is unconstitutional and disenfranchises thousands of would-be voters. Instead of preventing people from exercising their right to vote, we should be doing all we can to encourage it.
Halifax resident, Republican State Committee member
Voting is the way our citizens get to participate in our constitutional republic. If our citizens value the ability to elect our officials, having to register to vote before the election is an important part of the system. The advance registration requirement -- in Massachusetts, voters must register at least 20 days before the election to be eligible to vote -- provides the time that local elected officials need to check on the person’s credentials and make completely certain they aren’t able to vote in more than one polling locations.
An informed citizenry is required to enable our government to function properly. If there are many people who cannot take the time to register to vote before the deadline, what makes the Legislature believe that citizens will be informed on the issues that are coming before them? Candidates and ballot-question petitioners go through vigorous requirements and deadlines; are we going to remove those deadlines as well?
I recently contacted some of the town clerks in the Second Plymouth and Bristol state senatorial district to hear their thoughts on the proposed legislation to institute same-day voting in Massachusetts. A number of the clerks brought up with me a concern that they do not have the technology required at all of their voting places to allow same-day registration to take place. A number of the town clerks also mentioned to me their belief that the statewide Voter Registration Information System that the Secretary of the Commonwealth has in place is in dire need of major upgrades to enable same-day registration.
With the concerns about technology for the system itself and for all the polling locations -- and the lack of funding to address that problem -- I don’t believe that the state of Massachusetts is ready for same-day registration. This bill under consideration should stay in committee until the necessary cost analysis and funding is available.
Technology and funding aside, advocates of same-day registration need to make a case for why we need to dispense with the current deadlines. Those who value their right to vote should not consider it an undue burden to ensure they are registered to vote prior to an election.As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.