Common Cause Massachusetts 2016 Testimony in Support of Permanent Voter Registration

January 19, 2016



 Testimony in Support of S. 374, H. 554

Permanent Voter Registration

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts

Joint Committee on Election Laws

January 19, 2016

The United States is one of the most geographically mobile countries in the world, with nearly one in six Americans changing their address every year.[1] In Massachusetts alone, nearly 13% of the population relocated in 2011, the vast majority of them to other locations within the state. Political scientists credit our comparatively low voter turnout rates to Americans’ high mobility because voters who move may have difficulty reregistering in time for the next election, may be confused about whether they have to change their registration, or be unsure when the deadline to do so is. States vary widely from no deadline at all to one of more than 20 days.

This does not have to be the case. Other industrialized democracies utilize permanent voter registration in order to keep voter rolls up-to-date. Also known as “sticky” or “portable” registration, permanent registration enables voters who have moved within the state to vote at their new address without submitting new registration forms. These bills would bring Massachusetts’s voter registration process up to speed by establishing permanent voter registration for registered voters who move within the Commonwealth.

Permanent voter registration works by utilizing data from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, the US Postal Service, and other government agencies. If a person moves within Massachusetts and updates his or her address with one of these agencies, this information is transmitted to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. If the Secretary determines that this person is already a registered voter in Massachusetts, then the voter’s address will be updated in the central registry of voters, and the voter will receive written notice of his or her new polling location.

Massachusetts already possesses the necessary technological infrastructure to enact permanent voter registration. As a result of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, all states must allow voters who have moved within their registrar’s jurisdiction and congressional district to vote, regardless of whether they have updated their address with election officials. Furthermore, all states are now required to possess statewide electronic voter registration databases. In order to comply with NVRA requirements, election officials in Massachusetts are already accessing this statewide database in order to look up information about voters who have moved within their jurisdiction. Allowing for permanent voter registration would allow election officials to utilize that exact same voter database to help reregister voters who have moved elsewhere within the state.

Permanent voter registration significantly reduces the burden on election workers by ensuring that voter rolls are updated consistently throughout the year, rather than requiring officials to process a deluge of paper registration forms as voter registration deadlines approach. More accurate voter rolls also ensure that fewer voters end up having to cast provisional ballots, which are both time-consuming for election officials to process and dispiriting to voters who don’t know whether their ballot has been counted.

Our democracy works best when more people are able to make their voices heard. People who move around the most in our society—the unemployed, young people, and renters[2]—are the same citizens who have the lowest rates of voter turnout and among the highest rates of disenfranchisement. Permanent voter registration helps knock down one of the many barriers that work to prevent citizens from voting. In fact, political scientist Michael McDonald finds that permanent in-state voter registration would increase turnout by nearly two million voters nationwide.[3] Permanent registration also helps to inspire confidence in the integrity of our elections by cleaning up inactive voter registrations from the poll books and decreasing the chance of administrative errors that frequently lead to accusations of voter fraud.

Permanent voter registration is a cost-effective, easily-achievable way to increase voter participation, ensure election integrity, and modernize Massachusetts’ election registration process. We urge you to give these bills a favorable report.


[1] Skaggs, Adam and Jonathan Blitzer. 2009. “Permanent Voter Registration.” Brennan Center for Justice. Available at http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/Democracy/Permanent%20Registration.pdf

[2] Ihrke, David K. and Carol S. Faber. December 2012. “Geographic Mobility: 2005 to 2010.” United States Census Bureau. Available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-567.pdf

[3] Skaggs, Adam and Jonathan Blitzer. 2009. “Permanent Voter Registration.” Brennan Center for Justice. Available at http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/Democracy/Permanent%20Registration.pdf


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