During the 2017-18 legislative session in Massachusetts, we will be working hard with our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition to pass S373/H2091, a bill sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Peter Kocut, to bring Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) to our state.
A Boston Globe editorial urged adoption of AVR back in September 2015:
“The measure simply reverses the status quo: Would-be voters currently have to opt in to get enrolled; soon, voter registration will happen by default when receiving or renewing a license from the department of motor vehicles. So the onus now rests with the government, and not with citizens. The right to vote is granted automatically and without unnecessary barriers, as it should be, unless the individual opts out…
“Critics of universal automatic registration…say it could lead to voter fraud, since the new system potentially could enroll people who shouldn’t be on the voter lists. But modernizing the process and relying on technology will only make voter lists more accurate and the system more cost-efficient.”
Representatives of over 20 organizations testified before the Joint Committee on Election Laws hearing on the bill on June 8, 2017. LWVMA’s testimony on the bill is here. A coalition press release on the hearing is here.
On June 28, 2017, the Election Modernization Coalition hosted a hugely successful AVR lobby day at the State House. A coalition press release on the lobby day is here; lobby day materials and information are here.
What Is Automatic Voter Registration?
AVR is the next step in modernizing our voting system and implementing voting rights. This reform continues our democracy’s fundamental agreement that it is the citizen’s responsibility to vote, and it is the government’s responsibility to make voting as easy as possible.
AVR shifts voter registration from an opt-in system to an opt-out one. When eligible citizens interact with the Registry of Motor Vehicles or other state services agencies already charged with offering voter registration, they are automatically registered to vote unless they say no. They are notified by mail that they have been registered and can return that notification card to opt out or to enroll in a political party. It’s estimated that 15% of eligible citizens in Massachusetts are not registered.
Using modern technology to process registrations should make voter rolls more accurate and cost effective. Databases and opt-out procedures will ensure that only those eligible will be registered. Once someone is signed up, they remain registered when they move within their state. If someone is mistakenly registered, they will be not be penalized. And there is no record of citizens who choose not to be registered.
The Brennan Center for Justice notes that AVR moves the country toward the goal of universal voter registration, which the center said would:
- Add up to 50 million eligible voters to the rolls, permanently;
- Save money;
- Increase accuracy; and
- Improve the security of our elections.
For more, see the Brennan Center’s report, The Case for Automatic Voter Registration.
Where Has Automatic Voter Registration Been Adopted?
AVR first passed in 2015 in Oregon and went into effect in January 2016.
Eight other states have since passed AVR: California, Vermont, West Virginia, Connecticut, Alaska, Georgia, Colorado, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia. Alaska voters approved AVR on a ballot initiative in November. In May, both houses of the Illinois legislature passed AVR, and the governor is expected to sign the bill into law.
Oregon’s Secretary of State outlined that state’s experience with AVR in the November 2016 election in an article in The Hill in January 2017.
“The first year of program implementation has proven that this system is the most effective way to maintain accurate voter rolls while ensuring that only eligible voters cast ballots,” she wrote.
“The numbers in Oregon paint a picture of just how successful automated voter registration can be. Approximately 840,000 people were able to have their voter information either added or updated thanks to the new system. This number includes 270,000 eligible people who registered to vote and 570,000 people who had their records updated with new address information.” Accurate address information is particularly important in Oregon, where citizens vote by mail.
As this map illustrates, AVR is gaining widespread interest in northern and southern, red and blue states.
What’s Happening at the National Level?
In mid-June 2017, an AVR bill was introduced in Congress by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Robert Brady (D-PA).
“This bill will improve the accuracy of voter records, cut down on costs, and modernize outdated registration systems, while supporting states in implementing these updated systems,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters. “The League has advocated for online and electronic voter registration for many years, and we are pleased to see Congress recognizing these technologies.
“This legislation is especially important for young people. Eighteen to 24-year-olds only have a voter registration rate of about 55-percent, compared to the 70-percent rate for all voters of all ages, races and ethnicities. By employing the latest technologies – the technologies that young people are familiar with – this legislation will bring voter registration into the 21st century,” Carson said.
Click here for the LWVUS statement on the national Automatic Voter Registration bill.
How Can You Help in Massachusetts?
You can help support this cutting-edge election reform:
- Familiarize yourself with AVR by reading the Fact Sheet from our AVR Lobby Day in June 2017.
- Contact your Senator and Representative and ask them to support AVR. You can find your legislators’ contact information here.
- Write a letter to the editor (LTE) for your local newspaper. If you are writing on behalf of a local League, you can download an LTE template here. If you are writing as an individual, you can download an LTE template here. Please sign up here to let us know that you are submitting a letter to your local newspaper, so we can track our statewide outreach and impact.