Our Opinion: Time to institute election day registration
Free elections are one of the pillars of our democracy, and establishing ways to get more voters to the polls should be a goal of government. Beacon Hill has stepped up in this fashion in recent years and is poised to again with election day registration.
Secretary of State William Galvin, Attorney General Maura Healey, and a variety of voters' rights groups gathered on Beacon Hill Thursday to advocate for legislation allowing residents to vote and then cast ballots on Election Day. The Legislature not long ago passed a 20-day registration deadline ahead of elections which Ms. Healey argued Thursday was an artificial deadline driving down voter participation.
Modern technology and interconnected databases have rendered obsolete the concerns about early registration and now same-day registration. Election day registration is the law in 21 states and advocates report that voter participation has increased, most notably among college students who change addresses frequently and those whose language barriers make it difficult to navigate traditional deadlines. Voters who register on Election Day will have to display a valid ID with a current address so voter fraud should not be an issue. In fact, voter fraud is all but non-existent in the nation despite the voter fraud alarms regularly sounded by those interested in keeping voter participation low and discouraging students and minorities from going to the polls.
Happily, the election day registration effort in Massachusetts enjoys bipartisan support, with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressing their support. The only real concerns heard at Thursday's hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws came from Thomas Joyce, legislative agent for the Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association, who fears that town clerks may not be prepared to deal with the change by Election Day next year. In 2016, Massachusetts established early voting and two years later instituted automatic voter registration. Mr. Joyce noted that the town clerks supported both of those initiatives and will support election day registration as well if given the proper tools to implement it. It is incumbent of lawmakers to learn from the association what town clerks will require and institute those measures in election day registration bills.
Secretary of State Galvin, who advocated for and instituted the reforms of 2016 and 2018, Thursday described election day registration as the "final step" needed to ensure maximum voter participation. He maintained that it must be established before the 2020 election because the presidential race is likely to draw a substantial turnout that will test election officials. We urge lawmakers to pass election day registration legislation that addresses the concerns of town clerks in plenty of time to assure that it works smoothly in the critically important election of 2020.
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