Editorial: In 22 states, voters can register and cast a ballot on the same day. Not here.
Utah does it. So does Connecticut. And Wyoming. And Virginia. And 18 other states.
If states big and small, red and blue, urban and rural can embrace same-day voter registration, then so can Massachusetts.
The case for reform is pretty straightforward.
Under current state law, citizens have to register 10 days prior to an election. That means anyone who isn’t aware of the deadline or doesn’t tune in until the closing days of a campaign is out of luck. With same-day registration, residents could show up at an early voting location or at the polls on Election Day, register to vote, and cast a ballot on the spot.
The stumbling block has been the Legislature.
Last year, state legislators approved a big package of election changes, making pandemic-era reforms like no-excuse absentee voting and expanded early voting permanent.
But a group of House lawmakers, most prominently Michael Moran of Brighton, stood in the way of same-day registration, apparently worried that it could lead to a flurry of last-minute voting by students or other newcomers partial to ousting incumbents.
Opponents offer other reasons for their intransigence; same-day registration, they say, would be too difficult to administer at the busy close of election season. But it has worked fine in other states. And before she was elected governor, Maura Healey rightly dismissed concerns about same-day’s complexity. “This isn’t hard stuff,” she told GBH in a radio interview in 2021. “It disappoints me, frankly, that in Massachusetts we don’t have it.”
Claims by conservatives on the national stage that same-day registration opens up elections to fraud are bunk, too. Residents have to provide the same proof of residence to register on Election Day as they would a month or two earlier; if anything, the in-person nature of same-day registration serves as a deterrent to lying.
Now that she’s governor, Healey should press the Legislature to get a bill to her desk in short order.
She should also get behind an effort to get rid of a strange quirk in state law that may be unnecessarily purging thousands of voters from the rolls.
The levy is no more, but the lists live on in the form of the annual municipal census each city and town sends to its residents. The census serves all sorts of useful functions — allowing school districts to project student populations, senior centers to identify aging residents who could benefit from their services, and the state to create juror lists.
But a vestigial tie to voter registration is problematic.
Under state law, residents who fail to return the census and miss two straight statewide elections can be removed from the voter rolls. And state data shows that, in a two-year period following the 2018 election, 131,641 voters were booted for this reason.
Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office points out that’s just 2.7 percent of the voters who were registered at the time. And his office says many of the removed had probably just moved, with no notice to state and local officials. No harm, no foul.
But it seems possible that some number of these voters — however small — hadn’t moved at all and were taken off the rolls. Yes, they still might get the opportunity to cast provisional ballots if they show up at the polls. But why the hassle?
There’s just no good reason to continue using the municipal census to scrub the voter rolls. Advocates are pushing legislation that would require election officials to rely on other sources of information, like the Postal Service’s change of address program and a national election registration database that shows when certain voters have moved and registered elsewhere.
Massachusetts officials already use tools like these to clean up their voter lists, so no big culture shift would be required. The idea is simply to remove one particularly senseless hurdle to voting.
Of course, if the Legislature approves same-day voter registration, all of this would be moot. Census or no census, a resident could show up on Election Day and vote. And that’s how it should be.
This is a fraught moment in American democracy. Red-state legislators are making all sorts of cynical attempts to curb access to the ballot and Massachusetts lawmakers should be moving in the opposite direction. They’ve moved some already.
Time to move more.