It’s been almost twenty years since we last updated our voter registration process, and so much has changed since then. These days, the news doesn’t stop, communication is instant, and search engines provide information at the click of a button. The state government has made great strides in keeping up with this trend, and residents can now renew their drivers’ licenses or access many state services online, saving taxpayers both time and money as RMV lines shrink and paperwork becomes electronic. Registering to vote should be just as easy, and technology allows us to do so while maintaining security, saving money, and increasing accessibility.
This session I’m proud to have sponosored An Act to Modernize Voter Registration, which would make it easier for eligible citizens to register to vote and ensure the accuracy of our voter lists by allowing citizens to register to vote online, ensuring that our voting lists stay up to date when voters move, allowing 16 and 17 year old citizens to pre-register to vote, and allowing eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day.
In the last presidential election, more than 10,000 Massachusetts residents were denied the right to vote because they had not registered at least twenty days before the election. There’s no good reason for these citizens to have been blocked from participating – except for our outdated voter registration laws.
Same-day voter registration has worked successfully for three decades in Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and for almost two decades in New Hampshire, Idaho and Wyoming. In the past few years, same-day registration has also spread to Iowa, Montana and Wisconsin. There’s no reason it couldn’t work just as well here in Massachusetts.
Allowing online voter registration will also help increase voter turnout and engagement – particularly among young people. Citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 have some of the lowest voter registration rates – and 95% of them are frequently online. Allowing online registration and same-day registration will help foster a new generation of citizens actively engaged in our democracy.
It can also help save money. The average cost to register a voter in the United States is about $4, but in Canada, which allows for electronic registration, the cost is about $0.35. Arizona, one of several states that offers online voter registration, saves more than 90% per voter registered online. With the budget constraints currently facing the Commonwealth, every dollar saved in voter registration costs will help preserve vital programs.
Each year, about one in ten people in Massachusetts will move to another residence, where they will need to reregister to vote. This process could be made easier and more efficient by enacting “Permanent Registration,” which would let our Central Voter Registry get updated the same way businesses update their mailing lists, using data from the US Postal Service and the Registry of Motor Vehicles to make sure people are registered where they actually live – saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual costs.
Finally, we should enact “Pre-Registration,” which would allow young adults who will be eighteen by Election Day to register as early as age seventeen. Doing so would encourage civic participation among our youth and help students prepare for Election Day by making sure they’re registered before Election Day and before some of them head off to college.
Voting is one of our most important rights and duties of citizenship, and it’s vital that our voter registration process is both accessible and effective. By enacting these reforms, we will modernize our voting system and empower more citizens to participate while protecting and advancing the hallmark of our democratic system.