Why Massachusetts Has “One of the Strongest Automatic Voter Registration Bills in the Country”
With Governor Baker’s signature, Massachusetts has become the fourteenth state to adopt Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). All of these states’ bills share a common purpose: creating an automatic, opt-out voter registration process initiated by interaction with certain state agencies. With AVR, these states’ elections are becoming more accessible, inclusive, and secure. However, there are some differences between the specific registration procedures and policies of each state with AVR. According to Common Cause Massachusetts Executive Director Pam Wilmot, Massachusetts has “one of the strongest automatic voter registration bills in the country.” So, what sets Massachusetts’ bill apart?
First of all, Massachusetts will register voters through both the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth/the Health Connector, giving registration systems access to a substantially larger pool of voters than many other states. Of the thirteen states that have already begun using AVR, seven register voters only through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Alaska uses its unique Permanent Dividend Fund Division, which receives updated information on almost all Alaskans annually, to acquire registration information, while four other states use the DMV as well as social service agencies. Massachusetts will join Maryland in getting registration information from both the RMV and the state healthcare system, meaning it will reach many eligible voters that might otherwise have been missed. This increased access to voter information will also allow Massachusetts to update addresses and other important registrant information more often, ensuring that the voter rolls are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
The Commonwealth’s AVR law is also strengthened by the fact that citizens will be given the option to opt out of registering by mail, instead of needing to do so while they are at the state agency. Only two other states, Alaska and Oregon, have the same policy, and they have seen significant increases in their registration numbers because of it. The other AVR states ask people about voter registration in the middle of their transactions at state agencies, when they may be distracted, in a rush, or simply not thinking about voter registration. Sending the opt-out option by mail gives people time to think about registering and selecting a political party, instead of forcing them to decide in the moment. Elsewhere, this system has proven very effective at registering voters, and it will also help Massachusetts include as many people as possible in the democratic process.
Finally, the AVR bill joins Massachusetts with the Electronic Registration and Information Center (ERIC), a 22-state organization that shares voter and motor vehicle registration information and compares it to a variety of state and national databases. This data is then used to update voter rolls when people move, die, get married, or otherwise change information related to their voter registration. ERIC will greatly improve the accuracy and security of our voter rolls, protecting our elections from fraud and interference. Importantly, ERIC does not automatically purge voters—people flagged by ERIC are only removed after the system receives confirmation from the states. ERIC even expands voter access by identifying people who are eligible to vote but not yet registered and sending them registration forms. Maintaining the integrity of our elections is a priority for our democracy, and ERIC will help us do so in a responsible manner.
Through its far-reaching registration systems and upgrades to election security, Massachusetts’ AVR bill will help the Commonwealth have some of America’s most expansive and precise voter rolls. Executive Director Wilmot says that the bill “will make voting more accurate, secure and participatory” – all of which are essential attributes for a successful democracy.