We are encouraged that Secretary of State William F. Galvin has joined a campaign to adopt automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.
Any eligible residents doing business at state agencies such as the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth also would be signed up to vote in the same visit, unless they decline registration. Similar systems already are used in 11 states and Washington, D.C.
“I look forward to working with the Election Modernization Coalition on the successful implementation of automatic voter registration in Massachusetts and to achieve our shared goal of continuing to increase access and voter participation in the commonwealth,” Galvin said last month during a press conference at the Statehouse in Boston where he appeared with representatives of the coalition backing the measure.
Galvin said that besides increasing the number of registered voters, it is a more efficient use of personnel in signing them up. Galvin’s support is significant because his office oversees elections in Massachusetts.
He joins 61 environmental, civil rights, consumer, labor and other organizations backing automatic voter registration. The coalition is led by Common Cause Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group and the ACLU of Massachusetts, among others.
“We’re pleased to have Secretary Galvin’s support for automatic voter registration in our state,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “AVR will make our election system more accurate, secure and efficient. It is critical for the Legislature to pass it as soon as possible.”
Galvin also called for quick action, urging the Legislature to approve the measure this year so there is time to put in place the new system before the next presidential election in 2020.
The legislation was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, of Newton, and the late Rep. Peter Kocot, of Northampton, who died Feb. 22. There are 84 House co-sponsors and 22 in the Senate.
If adopted, the measure would automatically register to vote eligible residents when they renew their driver’s license or conduct other business at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The same would be true for low- and medium-income people who apply for benefits from MassHealth, the public health insurance that combines Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
As in other states that use an automated system, residents could opt out of being registered.
“AVR will remove real obstacles to political participation, ensuring that more voices can be heard,” said Meryl Kessler, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
There are about 680,000 residents of Massachusetts who are eligible to vote but are not registered, according to proponents for the new system. They point to its success in Oegon, the first state to use automatic registration in 2016. During the first six months, 230,00 voters were registered and the state updated another 265,000 inaccurate addresses for voters.
Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont in New England already use automatic registration.
Although there is no organized public opposition to the new system in Massachusetts, support has generally been along political party lines across the country, with Republicans objecting. Dennis Galvin, of Westford, a member of the Republican State Committee who is not related to the secretary of state, told the Boston Globe last year that he opposes the measure because the current system of having people go to their town or city halls to register is not burdensome.
Furthermore, Dennis Galvin said, “Interjecting discussions about voting into transactions with (state) agencies, which will involve questions about partisan preference, raise significant concerns about whether or not registrants could be influenced into their choices.”
We believe it is highly unlikely that prospective voters would be subject to influence during routine interactions with state officials. That remote concern is outweighed by the ability to use modern technology to register people to vote at the same time the state determines they are eligible.
The Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that if every state adopted the system used in Oregon, another 22 million registered voters would be added nationwide during the first year. “These new voters would then be poised to participate in making America’s political decisions,” the center asserts.
That’s a worthy goal. We urge the Legislature this year to add Massachusetts to the list of states with automatic registration.