Thursday, October 8, 2009

Election committee considers same-day voter registration

Thursday, October 8, 2009
This story was published in the MetroWest Daily News print version on 10/8/09. It was not published to the paper's website.

BOSTON- After moving a few blocks away from where he had been living, Gavi Wolfe, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, went to vote on Election Day and was told he was at the wrong polling location and could not cast his vote.
Since Wolfe had time, he went to the supposed correct location only to discover he had gone to the correct polling location in the first place and had to return there.
“Had I moved further away and not been able to do that, I would have been out of luck,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe recounted his experience to the Joint Committee on Election Laws on Wednesday as he spoke in favor of legislation that would allow Massachusetts voters to register at polling places on the same day of an election.
Co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, in remarks prepared for the session, said that same-day registration would remove, “unnecessary and onerous provisions" that require voters to register weeks before an election.
“It’s an outrage that any qualified citizen is denied their right to vote simply because they have not registered in time – or because their registration was somehow lost or mishandled,” said Eldridge, who was injured in a fall and unable to attend the hearing.
Rep. Stephen Smith, D-Everett, questioned the same-day registration provision, saying that it might “spoon-feed” voters too much.
“Let them be a little more responsible. Give them a date and let them be responsible for signing up for that date. If they don’t, they can sign up on Election Day, and they can vote in the next election,” said Smith.
Committee co-chair Rep. Michael Moran, D-Boston, said he was worried that same-day registration would prevent campaigns and organizations from reaching out to potential voters because they are not on registration lists.
But Avi Green, executive director of Mass VOTE, said there are other ways to deliver messages to potential voters.
The situation “encourages everyone, a little bit, to reach out to everybody," he said. “It creates a cycle of people reaching out further and you get more people voting.”
Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, dismissed concerns that same-day registration could welcome voting fraud and is too cumbersome.
“In the day of laptop computers and electronic connections that is absolutely untrue," he said at a press conference before the hearing. "We can record, instantaneously, the registration that takes place at the polling place and we can immediately call out anyone attempting to abuse the system,” Kaufman said.
The proposed bill, called the Massachusetts Freedom to Vote Act, also allows 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote in high schools.
Sen. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, said this provision is unopposed.
Story said less than 50 percent of 18-year-olds are actually registered to vote.
“It is known that voting is addictive. If you start voting, you keep voting," said.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, urged the lawmakers to pass the bill saying it would “bring us into the 21st century.”
“Massachusetts should absolutely be a leader," she said. "We are the cradle of democracy and it’s time to claim that heritage and bring it forward today.”

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