Automatic voter registration now in place in ten states

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Illinois became the tenth state to adopt an automatic voter registration law, and election reform advocates in Massachusetts are using the news to call on Bay State lawmakers to approve similar legislation, according to the State House News Service.

The law signed by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner after unanimous passage in the Legislature there “creates more accessible and secure elections by automatically registering voters unless they opt out of the program,” members of the Election Modernization Coalition said in a statement.

“The new law will add roughly one million new eligible voters to the voter rolls,” said the statement, signed by Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts, Meryl Kessler of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Beth Huang of Mass Voter Table, Janet Domenitz of MASSPIRG, Cheryl Clyburn Crawford of MassVote and Jonathan Cohn of Progressive Massachusetts. “Similar laws in other states have been proven to increase turnout and make elections more secure by modernizing the voter registration process. It is a common sense and long overdue reform.”

The coalition backs automatic voter registration bills filed by Rep. Peter Kocot and Sen. Cynthia Creem (H 2091, S 373). Under the proposals, state agencies like the Registry of Motor Vehicles would transmit a person's name, age, residence and citizenship information to municipal boards of registrars within five days of collecting it.

“As the cradle of liberty, Massachusetts should lead the way towards removing unnecessary barriers for voting and ensuring that every Bay Stater has a voice in our democracy,” the coalition said.

The bills would allow people to opt out if they did not wish to register, and would do away with the current process where people wishing to register to vote must first fill out a form with their local elections officers. Similar legislation (H 2080), sponsored by Rep. Evandro Carvalho, would also include colleges and universities as part of the automatic voter registration system.

As of February, there were 4,486,849 registered voters in Massachusetts, according to Secretary of State William Galvin's office. Wilmot earlier this year estimated that as many as 700,000 eligible Massachusetts residents -- about equal to the population of Boston -- were not registered to vote.

A record high number of ballots were cast in last year's presidential election, with 3,378,801 voters participating for nearly 75 percent turnout. But the state has experienced numerous other low-turnout elections. In the state primary election last September, only 8.84 percent of eligible voters, or 386,174 people, went to the polls. Galvin at the time attributed the low turnout to few contested races and a lack of statewide contests.

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