Should Massachusetts institute same-day voter registration?
Ruth B. Balser
State representative, Newton Democrat
Among the most troubling aspects of the 2016 election were the reports that many Americans who wanted to vote were turned away from the polls. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the outcome of the presidential election would have been different had it not been for voter suppression in some key states. The Supreme Court’s dismantling of the core provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the adoption in many states of voter restriction policies moves our nation in precisely the opposite direction from where we should be heading. With only about 60 percent of those eligible voting in presidential elections, and still fewer voting in midterm and local elections, policy makers should be making it easier to vote, not harder.
I am proud that as a state representative, I have opposed proposals to restrict voting. While the Massachusetts Legislature has not adopted policies such as voter identification laws, there is still much we can do to eliminate obstacles to voting. One such way would be to enact same-day voter registration. I am proud to co-sponsor legislation that would do just that.
In Massachusetts, 680,000 eligible voters are not registered to vote. State law requires those eligible to register 20 days before Election Day. Those who miss this arbitrary deadline cannot vote. Missing a deadline should not prevent an American citizen from being able to participate in the democratic process.
There has been virtually no evidence of voter fraud in states that have adopted same-day voter registration. Same-day registration in Massachusetts would require the same identification as is required to register at an earlier date, preserving election integrity. While states that have adopted same-day voter registration have not seen increased incidences of voter fraud, they have documented increased voter participation: In 2008, states with a same-day system averaged seven percent higher voter turnout than states without it.
Our democracy depends on the active engagement of its citizens. We should do everything in our power to promote democratic participation. Allowing same-day voter registration would encourage participation by removing an unnecessary barrier to the ballot box.
Member, Ashland Republican Town Committee and Ashland Board of Registrars of Voters
It is easy for US citizens at least 18 years old and a resident to become registered voters in Massachusetts. You can go to your town hall to register, or complete a voter registration form from several sources, or register online if you have a Massachusetts driver’s license or state ID card. You can also go online to complete and print the form to either mail or drop by your town hall. You must be registered at least 20 days before an election. If you become a newly naturalized citizen after the deadline, you can register up to the day before the election. If you are 16 years old, you can pre-register and be eligible to vote on your 18th birthday. Easy!
Now some think we need to go further and institute same-day voter registration. There are three major concerns that lead me to oppose this move.
First is the additional cost. This might be very small, a few hundred dollars per election, or more if computer equipment and larger staff are required. Additional training of the volunteers staffing the polling stations might also be needed.
Second, the additional time to register new voters would slow the process for those already registered voters during the high-attendance elections such as the presidential election or those with significant ballot questions.
Third is the potential of voter fraud, for instance if people were to travel to neighboring states to try and vote more than once.
The main reason advanced for same-day registration is to increase the number of registered voters, and hence turnout. But I wonder if the “same-day voters” would continue to be routine voters. Planning ahead may not be the forte of these same-day voters.
Same-day registration has been discussed before in Massachusetts and it was not implemented. Secretary of State William Galvin previously said in 2010 that more study was needed. After studying it for eight years, he now seems to think it is a good idea. But it wasn’t a good idea then and it isn’t now. Let’s stick with the system we have now.
(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)