A bill that will enact Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) in Massachusetts is advancing in the state legislature. Evidence from other states with AVR suggests this legislation will improve participation and access to the ballot box while also increasing efficiency and lowering election administration costs. In other words, AVR is a long overdue common sense reform. The legislature should pass this bill and the Governor should sign it into law so that more eligible Massachusetts voters will be able to cast a ballot as soon as 2019.
The push for voter registration reform comes in response to Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin, an ongoing court case in which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has alleged that the state’s 20-day voter registration cutoff law is unconstitutional. In July 2017, the Suffolk Superior Court ruled in favor of the ACLU, striking down the 20-day deadline. Secretary Galvin appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
But regardless of his legal position in Chelsea Collaborative, Secretary Galvin has fully supported AVR, which would not only increase voter participation but also improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls. Massachusetts needs this boost to its elections. Massachusetts has nearly 700,000 unregistered but otherwise eligible voters. Studies suggest that Illinois’ recently enacted AVR bill will help over 1.13 million new voters become registered in the state. AVR could similarly boost participation in Massachusetts by making it easier, indeed automatic, for many voters to get registered and thus be able to vote on Election Day. When Oregon first enacted AVR in 2015, the state’s voter turnout in 2016 increased by 4.1 percent compared to the 2012 elections.
AVR will also improve the accuracy of Massachusetts’ voter registration systems. AVR systems share information automatically between different government agencies, keeping voter profiles current as citizens update their information with new addresses and other changes. Within the first six months of Oregon enacting AVR, more than 265,000 inaccurate voter profiles were updated. Finally, AVR also relieves state employees of tedious duties involved with manually entering data, which decreases the chances of voter information being recorded inaccurately.
In addition to increasing voter participation and registration accuracy, the Massachusetts bill will likely lower the cost of voter registration systems and improve their efficiency. AVR improves registration efficiency because it spreads out the number of people who register to vote throughout the year, instead of flooding agencies with applications as Election Day approaches. In Oregon, 225,000 people were registered to vote through interactions at Oregon’s department of motor vehicles. Thus, the state can save money by not having to hire temporary workers and pay employees overtime to complete voter registration processing during peak election season.
In sum, the voter registration bill making its way through the Massachusetts Legislature will improve the government’s efficiency and save money, increase voter participation, and create an accurate and reliable voting system. In other words, this bill will deliver better elections; it should be a no-brainer.