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Automatic Voter Registration in MA: Will 2017 Be the Year?

Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to take up a measure that would allow for automatic voter registration. (Redjar/Flickr)
Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to take up a measure that would allow for automatic voter registration. (Redjar/Flickr)
December 9, 2016

BOSTON - Bay State voters this year had their first chance to participate in early voting, and if local advocates have their way, lawmakers will consider a measure in 2017 that would allow automatic voter registration.

The current state voter registration system involves too many paper forms and is costly and inaccurate, according to Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. When legislators get back to work in January, she said, she expects they will consider automatic voter registration at state motor vehicle offices.

"Six other states are now doing this," she said. "The first, Oregon, just implemented for this election, and put 250,000 more voters on the voter rolls, about half of them that actually voted this time, which was great."

Some who oppose the idea fear that automatic registration could lead to compulsory voting, which is currently the law of the land in Australia.

Wilmot said the legislation is likely to be drafted early next month. About 700,000 people of voting age in the state are not registered to vote, she said.

Massachusetts has not exactly been on the cutting edge when it comes to modernizing elections, Wilnot said. The 2016 elections were the first ever in the Commonwealth that allowed for early voting.

"More than a million people voted early, in person, this time out, which is about a third of the total voting population," she said. "So, that's a fantastic win for voters. They loved it, and it's frankly about time. We were the 35th state to enact early voting."

Wilmot said she expects the legislation would create an opt-out system rather than an opt-in system, meaning Massachusetts drivers automatically would be registered to vote when they renew or update their driver's license.

She said a similar measure made it out of committee last year but failed to gain final approval.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA