Avi Green and Teri Fair: Same-day voter registration can reduce fraud, raise participation
What do Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin all have in common on Election Day? Some of the highest voter turnout numbers in the country, virtually no problem with voter fraud and – not coincidentally – laws allowing citizens to register right at the polls on the day they vote.
In a year where we have seen record voter turnout in this state and across the country, Massachusetts should be on the cusp of joining those states and four others across the country that allow Election Day registration, but the Legislature needs to act quickly. With a piece of legislation that is relatively simple to implement and a mere pittance in terms of cost, Massachusetts could ensure that thousands of citizens are brought into the democratic process.
The money needed to implement the program – about $1 million a year – is already in place thanks to federal funds made available to states after the election debacle of 2000. Secretary of State William Galvin – whose office oversees the federal funds – has endorsed the measure. So, too, has Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, key city and town clerks and voting rights groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.
There is still time for the Legislature to act and make sure that everyone who has a right to vote gets to exercise that right this year. Same-day registration would make sure that new citizens, college students, those who have changed addresses and thousands of voters who simply did not remember to register early don’t find themselves disenfranchised when they go to the polls. This is going to be one of the most visible and important presidential elections in decades. No voter wants to be told he or she cannot cast a ballot because of what is essentially a clerical matter.
No other step we can take will do so much to bring in new voters and increase turnout. In the eight states that have same-day registration, turnout is 10 percent higher than in states that make voters register 20 or 25 days prior to the election.
The upside for Massachusetts is potentially huge. Voter-rights groups estimate that Massachusetts could see between 200,000 and 300,000 additional voters if Election Day registration is in place come November. And many of those new voters will be new citizens – just the people we want to become involved and active in the life of their new country.
Critics are concerned that same-day registration could lead to confusion at the polls or open up the potential for fraudulent voting. Neither concern has been borne out in states with same-day registration. In the first instance, registration at the polling place is simple, straightforward and fast. No longer will voters become angry, confused and turned away from this most important democratic act. No longer will people wait in line behind those upset voters who are trying to understand why they don’t show up on the voter list and why they are in the wrong polling place. Those showdowns routinely throw a wrench into smooth voting for all citizens -- something that a straightforward registration system will not.
Voter fraud is a crucial concern. But as Wisconsin Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has pointed out: What is more likely to lead to fraud, the current registration by post card, or registration in person, face-to-face, with a photo ID? Those going to vote will be U.S. citizens armed with photo IDs that indicate where they live and who they are.
The Legislature has an important opportunity to ensure that hundreds of thousands of citizens this fall have the chance to cast a vote for their candidate while creating a smoother democratic system for all in the process. And this can all happen with little or no cost to most Massachusetts residents. Let’s ask them to act quickly to do the right the right thing for the electorate.
Avi Green is the executive director of MassVOTE. Teri Fair is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Suffolk University and a resident of Quincy.