[Image via digitalcommonwealth]
Massachusetts has enacted a bill – with large, bipartisan majorities – that would make it the latest state to allow automatic voter registration and also clear the way for the Bay State to join ERIC. MassLive has the story:
The Legislature on Monday sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would institute automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.
Under the bill, an eligible voter who applies for a license or identification card at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or completes a transaction at MassHealth or the Health Connector would be automatically registered to vote.
“We think it is one of the strongest automatic voter registration bills in the country,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “If signed by the governor, it will make voting more accurate, secure and participatory.”
The bill, H.4834, passed the House by a vote of 134-16 on Friday and the Senate, 36-0, on Monday.
The secretary of the commonwealth would be authorized to enter into agreements with other state agencies to register voters, as long as the agencies collect proof of age, residency and citizenship. The secretary’s office would provide all the necessary forms, training and information to partner agencies.
Voter information would be transmitted electronically, which advocates for the bill say will make the voter rolls more accurate. For example, someone who changes their address at MassHealth or the Registry of Motor Vehicles would have their voter registration updated automatically.
A person would be given the opportunity to opt out of registering to vote.
The secretary of the commonwealth would write rules governing things like security precautions, avoiding mistakes, preventing voter fraud and ensuring address confidentiality of domestic violence victims.
In addition, Massachusetts would join a database maintained by several states, called ERIC, which lets states compare their voter rolls with other data sources. This ensures that, for example, someone who moves is not registered to vote twice, and someone who dies is removed from the voter rolls.
Automatic voter registration would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, in time for that year’s presidential elections.
Thirteen other states have already adopted some form of automatic voter registration.
During debate on the House floor, Rep. Michael Moran, D-Boston, said automatic voter registration, combined with other reforms that were passed previously, “confirms our constitutional obligation that every citizen has an equal voice and vote in determining the future of this commonwealth and country,” according to a State House News Service transcript.
Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, said, “Voting is a fundamental right for all citizens in a democracy and we ought to make it as straight-forward as possible.”
There are an estimated 680,000 eligible voters who are not registered to vote in Massachusetts. An analysis by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress estimated that automatic voter registration could enroll 437,000 new voters, of whom 156,000 could be expected to show up at the polls.
Baker has 10 days to review the bill.
The governor has said previously that he has been providing “technical advice” to lawmakers about the best way to institute automatic voter registration. Baker said the state’s move to Real ID, a federally approved form of identification that requires someone to document their lawful presence in the country, makes it possible to use Registry of Motor Vehicle transactions “with a fairly high degree of integrity that did not exist before.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin [who faces a primary challenge for re-election – DMCj] supports the change and has said he is glad lawmakers are working on passing it before the session ends “so that my office can get started on implementing the new law immediately.
If Gov. Baker signs the bill as expected, Massachusetts will begin the real work of making AVR a reality – a process that other states have found challenging, especially when it comes to getting different state agencies to share data. Still, it’s a huge leap forward for the Bay State – kudos to everyone involved … and stay tuned!