Saturday May 11, 2013

Access to the ballot box is a fundamental right in our democracy. Decades of studies have shown that greater voter participation is a key indicator for the health of our democracy.

Unfortunately, while our New England neighbors, and states across the country, are working to expand access to the franchise, Massachusetts is falling behind. Arcane laws, bureaucratic errors and confusing rules about registration keep far too many people in Massachusetts from voting every election. The most confounding thing about our archaic election administration is that we know what works, but every year, our elected officials -- the legislature and the secretary of state -- are unable to enact meaningful reform.

New Hampshire and Maine, along with six other states, have already implemented Election Day Registration (EDR), which, as the name implies, allows eligible citizens who show the necessary proof of residency to register right at their polling places on election day. States with EDR, like Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin, consistently rank among the highest in the nation in voter participation, and EDR is clearly no small part in that ranking.

According to Demos, a good government think tank, if Massachusetts had implemented EDR for the 2008 presidential election, 4.9 percent, or 225,000 more eligible voters, would have participated in that historic election.


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A University of Wisconsin study from 2009 demonstrated that EDR is associated with a 6-7 percent increase in turnout, which is far greater than any other popular policies, even early voting.

Every legislative session, bills are filed and debated, and are ultimately killed, either because of a lack of political will or getting lost in a flurry of other legislative activity. In 2008, the Massachusetts Senate passed EDR, only to see it die in the House, and in 2011, the House passed a much narrower set of important election reforms, but the Senate failed to act.

This session, the legislature has no excuse for inaction. Across the country, more and more states are moving to a more inclusive democracy by passing EDR, Connecticut voters will have their first opportunity to register on Election Day in 2014, and Maryland and Colorado are not far behind.

One citizen, one vote is the cornerstone of our democratic system. Every year we fail to act, we deny some residents their access to the franchise. Removing barriers in the election process is one of the easiest things Massachusetts decision makers can do to improve the health of our democracy.

Beacon Hill is presented with a tremendous opportunity this year; allow hundreds of thousands more Massachusetts residents to vote, or continue with the status quo, For the sake of our commonwealth, they must enact Election Day Registration.

BEN WRIGHT

Boston

The writer is campaign director, Progressive Massachusetts.