The Massachusetts Legislature Should Pass Automatic Voter Registration Now

Imagine that registering to vote were actually easy. Imagine that you did not have to navigate an antiquated signup process, remember to update your registration every time you moved, or navigate arbitrary registration deadlines just to exercise a constitutional right. Imagine that you could just show up to your polling place on Election Day and vote.

You might not have to imagine much longer: the Massachusetts legislature could make simpler voting a reality by passing the Automatic Voter Registration (“AVR”) bills currently before both chambers. The state legislature should do so before the committee reporting deadline on February 7th. AVR would not only reduce the headache of registering to vote – it would also add 700,000 people to the voter rolls in Massachusetts alone, and increase voter turnout and the diversity of the electorate in the process.

AVR works in two steps: first, eligible voters (except those who opt out) are automatically registered after interacting with any government agency; second, those agencies electronically transfer voter registration information to election officials. It is a simple process that eliminates unnecessary, confusing paperwork and lowers barriers to political participation.

Ten states have passed AVR statutes since 2015. President Barack Obama called on states to make AVR “the new norm” in 2016. It’s easy to see why: AVR brings a ton of people into the political process.

AVR has already been shown to increase turnout. Oregon, which implemented its AVR law in 2015, saw a 4.1% increase in turnout in 2016 over the non-AVR 2012 election – the highest increase in the nation. Over 100,000 voters, or 4.7% of Oregon’s 2016 electorate, were registered through AVR. According to the Center for American Progress, most of those voters were unlikely to have registered through traditional means.

AVR especially boosts turnout in underrepresented groups: it makes the electorate younger and more racially and socioeconomically diverse. In Oregon, 37% of AVR voters were 30 or younger, an age group comprising 20% of Oregon’s population. In contrast, just 13% of non-AVR voters between the ages of 18 and 29 were registered in Oregon during the same time frame. 11% of AVR voters were people of color, compared to just 6% of non-AVR voters. The median income of AVR voters was also significantly lower than that of non-AVR voters.

The implementation of an AVR scheme could have huge policy ramifications. If young people, people of color, and low-income voters are better able to hold their elected officials accountable through participation in the electoral process, policy outcomes would better reflect the oft-overlooked needs of those groups.

At a time when officials at the federal and state level are enacting politically-motivated voter ID laws and conducting purges of voter rolls in order to prevent young people and people of color from voting, measures like AVR are vital. By joining the ten states that have already adopted AVR, Massachusetts has a chance to strengthen its own democracy and set an example for the rest of the nation.

If you’d like to see Massachusetts pass AVR, here are some things you can do:

  • Join the Campaign for Political Equality here as we work to make AVR a reality.
  • Call your representatives and ask them if they support the AVR legislation in each chamber (H. 2190 in the House; S. 373 in the Senate). Tell them why you do. But do it soon – if the bill does not receive a favorable committee report before February 7th, it will die. You can find your representatives here.
  • If you don’t have time to call, sign our petition in support of AVR and we will submit it to your representatives.

To be clear, AVR is not a panacea. It will not fix all of the structural issues preventing everyone from having their voice heard in our democracy. But because it can bring hundreds of thousands of people into the political process, it’s a great place to start.

Zach Fisch

Zach Fisch is a 2L.
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