The current situation: The Senate version of the VOTES Act includes same day voter registration (SDR), which allows qualified citizens to register and then vote during the in-person early voting period and on Election Day. The House version has no provision for registering to vote during an election. The Election Modernization Coalition is proposing Election Day Registration (EDR) as a compromise. With EDR, there would still be a voter registration cutoff date, either 20 days before an election (current law) or 10 days before (House version). But qualified citizens who miss that deadline can still register and then vote on Election Day itself. This compromise is supported by the town clerks’ association.
The equity issue: The coalition strongly supports the pandemic voting reforms that the VOTES Act will make permanent—unrestricted voting by mail and expanded in-person early voting. Voters love them, and they make it easier for people to vote. But in the 2020 election, those reforms had a much greater impact in suburban communities, where turnout frequently topped 85%, than in urban communities, where turnout was 50-60%. To boost turnout in urban communities, we first need to assure that people are registered to vote. EDR, allowing people to register AND vote on Election Day, will go a long way to meeting that goal.
Is EDR a hassle for election officials? The question has been raised whether more poll workers will be needed to handle people seeking to register and vote on Election Day. In fact, polling places already have someone assigned to assist with provisional ballots in case there is a question about a voter’s registration. That person could handle Election Day registration. EDR solves most of the issues around generating a provisional ballot by simply allowing someone whose registration is questioned to re-register and vote. Thus, EDR will eliminate the need for most provisional ballots, a time-consuming and cumbersome process.
Who uses EDR? In many cases, and Vermont reports well over a majority, EDR is used by people who are already registered to vote but experience a question about their registration at the polling place. There may be a typo in their name or address, or their registration never got processed. Those people will no longer have to use a provisional ballot; they can just register on the spot and vote. EDR will particularly help in cities where a greater proportion of the population rents and moves often. Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts is reducing the number of people who are not registered to vote. EDR will catch those who fall through the cracks.
A proven reform: EDR is not an untested voting reform. It is already used in 20 states, including New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. Massachusetts should be doing this.
Does EDR lead to fraud? No. EDR is in effect in 20 states; there is no evidence of fraud, of people registering to vote in more than one place. The EDR provision in the VOTES Act includes a written oath voters must sign swearing they have not and will not vote elsewhere, with a fine and felony penalty. It’s unlikely voters will risk that to cast more than one vote. As a wise person said: There’s a reason counterfeiters don’t make pennies; it’s not worth the risk.
People want this: There is widespread popular support for EDR. A UMass Amherst poll showed 65% support.