Common Cause Massachusetts 2016 Testimony in Support of Election Day Registration

January 19, 2016

Testimony in Support of S. 377, H. 540, H. 553

Election Day Registration

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts

Joint Committee on Election Laws

January 19, 2016


Thank you Mr. Chairman. On behalf of the members of Common Cause in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I would like to testify in support of three bills that would implement Election Day Registration (EDR) for voters, which is alternatively called “Same Day Registration.”

Political commentators have widely decried the decline in voter turnout in elections. It is a national trend that is undeniable and is eating away at the most basic element of our democracy:  citizen participation in truly competitive elections.

Election Day Registration is the single most effective public policy that reverses this trend and increases voter participation in elections.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have responded to the disenfranchising effect of voter registration by eliminating pre-registration deadlines and enacting Election Day Registration or Same Day Voter Registration.[1] Another state, North Dakota, has no registration system at all.

While citizens in Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Iowa, the District of Columbia, and now California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, and Maryland may register through traditional means in advance of elections, they may also choose to register and vote on Election Day.[2] The results are impressive. The EDR states boast some of the highest voter participation rates in the nation. In 2012, four of the five states with the highest turnout rates had EDR. On average EDR states had ten percent higher turnout than non-EDR states. In the 2008 general election, EDR states had seven percent higher turnout than the average in states without EDR.[3]

Political scientists concur in their view that EDR significantly increases the size of the voting public. In a 1990 study of a variety of changes in election law, Curtis Gans and the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate determined that more than six million voters might be added to the rolls if Election Day Registration were adopted in all states. In a more recent study, Mark J. Fenster posits that implementing EDR nationwide could increase electoral participation in United States presidential elections by 8.54 million people.

EDR has other benefits.  It can prevent the disenfranchisement of voters whose names have been accidentally removed or left off of the voting rolls. Likewise, it would greatly reduce the number of provisional ballots that election workers must administer. Similarly, EDR helps voters that have moved shortly before an election but have not updated their registration. EDR also allows an unregistered voter that becomes engaged in the political process in the run-up to an election to still participate and cast a ballot.[4] 

The states that have implemented EDR have avoided any significant occurrences of voter fraud. States with same-day registration require registrants to take an oath attesting to the truthfulness of the information they provide upon registration or require photo identification or both. Willful violations typically carry significant penalties of fines and imprisonment. Maine takes the additional step of prominently posting notices advising voters of the penalties for voter fraud. Measures such as these have been proven successful. Officials in EDR states report virtually no problems with fraud.

In short, Election Day Registration has been a successful policy without apparent drawbacks. It is widely supported by election officials in the states where it has been used.

I respectfully urge you to give these bills a favorable report.

[1] North Carolina repealed its Same Day provision that allowed voters to register and vote during the early voting period (but not election day itself).




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