“As a poll worker, I’ve been in the position of having to tell these folks, ‘Come back next year,’” he said. “That’s a terrible thing to have to say, and we know that we don’t have to do that.”
Green cited the relative success of such laws in other states — Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming have all adopted Election Day registration or similar measures — as evidence that the system is feasible.
In addition to boosting turnout among young voters, the measure is expected to have a disproportionate impact in low-income and minority neighborhoods throughout the state. The Demos report predicts increases of 5.6 percent among African Americans, 5.5 percent among Latinos and 7.8 percent among those making between $20,000 and $40,000 per year.
Avitzur said the potential effect on low-income neighborhoods is an important aspect of the push for Election Day registration.
“The main idea behind he bill is to remove any potential roadblocks to voting,” Avitzur said. “If you, for example, don’t have the time because you’re working hard, long hours, [or] can’t get to your town clerk’s office or wherever to register, you can go on Election Day and take care of everything at once.
“That would probably be of greater concern in low-income areas, where people’s time is even more at a premium,” he said.
The bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee in February and it is unclear whether it will see action before the end of the current legislative session.
According to Green, lawmakers are often hesitant to alter existing election laws for fear of creating administrative problems or increasing the likelihood of voter fraud.
“I think that the main opposition to the bill is just that people always want to be very careful before they make any changes to the electoral system,” Green said. But he rejected the idea that Election Day registration poses any serious concerns for the state, suggesting that many of the common objections to the bill are outdated.
“When they originally set up the registration process, they were making these laws up 100 years ago or more,” Green said. “We didn’t have Massachusetts driver’s licenses, we didn’t have utility bills, we didn’t have paychecks that were official that you could show” as identification.
Comstock-Gay said Demos’ research has shown that Election Day registration systems can be easily and safely implemented.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s difficult to do,’ but it’s no more difficult to do than anything else you do when managing elections,” he said, adding that there is “absolutely no evidence that [Election Day registration] leads to any case of impersonation fraud.”
He said that acting on the measure early would greatly reduce the chance of any problems occurring during implementation.
“Any time you have a change in the way you run elections, you want to make sure you give the people who run the elections the time to set it up and do it right,” Comstock-Gay said. “It’s not that difficult to run [Election Day registration], but you just need to prepare for it.”
Avitzur said the bill was crafted carefully to allow legislators to deal with any issues that might come up.
“The bill, as it’s currently drafted, would sunset after the 2010 election cycle,” he said, explaining that this would give the state the opportunity to re-assess the measure and correct any problems. To that end, he said, the bill would also create an advisory committee to report on the issue at that time.
One way or another, Green said he expects Massachusetts to eventually implement an Election Day registration system.
“It’s just a matter of whether Massachusetts will be leading the charge,” he said.
The New York-based research and advocacy organization's full March 2008 report on what implementing Election Day voter registration could mean for turnout and participation in the Commonwealth. More »
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