More democracy now

Why Beacon Hill should allow same-day voter registration
By EDITORIAL  |  April 2, 2008

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Those of us hooked on HBO’s John Adams miniseries have been basking in Massachusetts’s central role in ushering in our nation’s bold democratic experiment. Our state has a long, proud history of enfranchising the citizenry, and it should do so once again — by adopting reforms to make it easier and more convenient to cast one’s vote.

At a time when voter turnout is depressingly low — even here in Massachusetts, which ranks 21st in the nation in that regard — we should be trying every reasonable measure to boost those participation numbers.

Foremost among these changes, and closest to becoming reality, is same-day registration. It would allow people who have not previously registered to do so at their polling place on Election Day.

An additional 226,000 votes would have been cast in Massachusetts in the last presidential election had same-day registration been in place, according to a new study by Demos, a nonpartisan public-policy research firm in New York. That’s roughly the state’s entire population in Adams’s day — surely a number worth expanding the franchise to include.

MassVOTE and other advocacy groups, including MASSPIRG, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters, have pushed this reform to the brink of becoming law, despite the notorious reluctance of state legislators to tinker with the election processes through which they have won and retained office.

Appropriately, citizen action is now needed to prod the legislature into finishing the job.

We encourage you to sign the online endorsement petition at massvote.org. Then, join Massachusetts Common Cause for its citizen lobbying day at the State House this Tuesday, April 8.

In Massachusetts, where the registration deadline is 20 days prior to the election, thousands of residents miss the cut-off, perhaps because they moved and forgot to re-register, or reached voting age but failed or were unaware they had fill out paperwork.

Same-day registration not only would let those folks cast their votes, it would help reduce the chaos that reigned at polling places nationwide in the 2004 presidential election. Hundreds of thousands of people cast “provisional” ballots that year when their names did not appear on voter lists. Election officials then had to painstakingly determine which voters had previously registered, and whether they had done so prior to the deadline.

Eight states now allow same-day registration, including two (Iowa and Montana) that have adopted it since the 2004 election. A bill introduced here two years ago died, sent to the administrative dungeon of “further study.”

This year could be different. State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem and State Representative Gloria Fox’s recent bill on the matter received a favorable vote out of a joint committee in February. It now awaits action from the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

An increasing number of public officials who were previously wary of same-day registration now support the idea — including, most important, Secretary of State William Galvin.

Galvin’s previous resistance to the idea was founded upon legitimate concerns, and his current support is testament to how well those concerns have been addressed. Some predicted, for instance, that same-day registration would increase voter fraud by allowing people to register and vote multiple times, in multiple locations, on Election Day. Others feared that voters might “district shop,” choosing to go where their vote might have the most impact — think: thousands flocking to a district with a hot congressional race and grabbing a registration form and a ballot.

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Elections and Voting,  More more >
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