By Sarah Thomas, Sun Correspondent
BOSTON — Voters in Massachusetts might soon have a very different experience at the polls under a proposal to overhaul the state’s election laws by allowing same-day voter registration and pre-registration for teens.
The Freedom To Vote Act, an omnibus bill sponsored by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, tackles a number of reforms to the way voters are registered and ballots are cast. Some of these reforms include pre-registration of high school students under the age of 18, e-mail voting for members of the armed forces, and random audits of paper ballots by election officials.
The bill got a hearing yesterday at the Statehouse before the Joint Committee on Election Laws.
One of the measures, same-day registration at polling locations, has some local election clerks concerned.
“Procedurally, this poses a lot of challenges,” said Fitchburg City Clerk Anne Farrell. “It will require additional poll workers, which has a financial component in strapped cities. And it’s virtually impossible to check at a polling place if a voter is registered elsewhere, which increases chances of voter fraud.”
Though Farrell admits Fitchburg voter turnout in non-presidential elections is generally low, she said giving voters the option of registering at the polls would not increase numbers.
Supporters of the bill say that same-day registration helps enfranchise communities such as young people and minorities where low voter turnout is common. They say other components
of the bill, such as allowing communities to choose the number of policemen who escort their ballots, would mean an overall cost saving for cities.
“Whenever there’s a change in election law, city clerks are always concerned about increases in workload or fraud,” said Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, who supports the bill. “The bottom line is this bill encourages people to vote.” Fargo said she will be doing everything she can to move the bill through committee quickly.
Eldridge, who has been a strong advocate for voting reform, missed yesterday’s hearing after falling down at his home. He spent the night at Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering what his staff believed was a fractured shoulder and possibly a broken collar bone.