The MassVote organization current campaign for election law reform includes:
- Online registration. We’re living in the 21st century! It’s time to let citizens register online.
- Pre-registration. When young people are registered, they vote. So how can we get more young people registered? By letting them register when they’re 16 and 17 so they’re set the day they turn 18.
- Election Audits. You deserve to know your vote was counted right, so a simple safety measure and precaution we should randomly audit a few precincts each election.
- Election Day Registration. No eligible citizen should be denied the right to vote. Election Day Registration is a time-tested failsafe that ensures every eligible citizen can always vote.
I think these are all very reasonable ideas. I would include two more. Let cities and towns, without having to get home-rule petitions from the Massachusetts State Legislature, allow 17 year olds to vote for their local school committee members. There are very few people who are better informed on the topic of education than high school seniors. My second idea is the legislature should look into why the names of some people think who they registered to vote or updated their voter registration address at a Registry of Motor Vehicles office or online do not show up on voter registration roles. Part of the problem is information travels too slowly from the Registry to the Secretary of State’s office and ultimately to the local election commissions. The other part of the problem is some people think they registered to vote or updated their voter registration address when they really didn’t. In person and online I suspect the process could be made clearer. Few people who want to vote are turned away. But why should any eligible citizen be denied their right to vote?
NOTE: This comment updated at 5:30PM on Saturday, February 4, after conversation with Mike Arnott and Martha Older.
Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your posting this inquiry — there is an email campaign going on on these issues and I appreciate the opportunity to respond publicly. And thank you to both you and Martha Older for our conversation at my office hours this afternoon. I have amended my comments below to reflect the insights you gave me.
I am definitely in support of pre-registration for teenagers. That is a straightforward and positive idea.
I am also in favor of online registration, but I view that as basically a technical problem to be solved and I’d want to hear from the Secretary of State and the city and town Registrars that they felt that they were fully ready before moving forward with it. The main challenge in the online environment would seem to be verification of identity.
Regarding election audits, I’m not sure that they add an important additional layer of security. In Massachusetts, there are a lot of people watching the process in most communities and very little evidence to suggest voter fraud. So, I’m not sure that we need more protection at this time — but if the cost can be brought low enough, it might be worth it to reduce doubts.
Election-day registration is a mixed bag, but I do support it. My reservation is that for down ballot candidates whose names aren’t constantly in the headlines, the main medium of communication is direct mail to people on the voting list. Those who don’t register until election day will never have heard at all from down ballot candidates, especially non-incumbents. However, you have convinced me that this is a small enough problem that we shouldn’t forgo the convenience offered by same day registration. You have also made me comfortable that we are likely to be able to verify identity at the polling place for new registrants.
Early voting for school committee members makes sense as a local option. My only reservation is the complexity of having a few voters who are only eligible to vote for some of the candidates on the ballot. That might be logistically difficult. But if a community wants to allow it, it would seem to be a great way to give kids the habit of voting.
Finally, regarding the Registry question you raise, we’ll follow up. I understand that you see two issues: (a) People being allowed to mistakenly believe that the process is automatic (so they fail to do the necessary steps at the registry); (b) the paper work moving slowly from the registry to the clerks.
Thanks again for your help on this issue.
I will put together a letter to the Election Laws committee summarizing my views and indicating support for action.
Update: The early registration and audit measures have received favorable committee reports.
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