• House Speaker Robert DeLeo file photo

State House News Service
Published: 5/31/2018 10:12:50 PM

Implementing an automatic voter registration system in Massachusetts would carry “minimal” cost, according to a report released Wednesday morning, hours before the top House Democrat suggested an interest in the issue.

A bill pending before the House Ways and Means Committee would automatically register eligible voters when they interact with a state agency like the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth, unless they choose to opt out. Supporters say as many as 700,000 eligible voters could become registered through an automatic system.

The report, released Wednesday by Common Cause Massachusetts, used figures from automatic voter registration states Oregon, Vermont and Colorado to conclude that adopting such a system here “should not place a financial burden on the Commonwealth” and that available funds could cover many of the costs.

The most significant expenses associated with automatic registration involve printing notifications and improving software and information technology, according to the report, which said the main costs here would likely be upgrading the central voter registry and the existing “databridge” between the RMV and secretary of state’s office.

The costs of those upgrades and personnel training could be covered through the approximately $43.4 million the state has remaining in federal money from the Help America Vote Act. Passed in 2002, the law made funding available for states to improve election administration and update voting systems.

Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said automatic registration is “a cost-effective, practical and effective reform,” and urged lawmakers to “act swiftly” to pass the bill.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo jumped at the chance to mention automatic voter registration when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, bringing up his plans to discuss it with Election Laws Committee House Chair John Mahoney in response to a question about the possibility of early voting for this year’s primary election.

“I am planning on having the chair of the Election Laws Committee come in and talk to me about it,” DeLeo said. “Did you say early voting? Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said automatic voter registration. I apologize.”

DeLeo then clarified he planned to talk early voting with Mahoney, too, but said automatic voter registration would be “probably the bigger discussion.”

MASSPIRG executive director Janet Domenitz said Thursday that supporters of the bill were “encouraged” by DeLeo’s remarks. With two months left for formal legislative sessions for the year, Domenitz called the bill’s prospects “really good.”

“I think at this point, it really just is a matter of can we get past the traffic jam of literally thousands of bills that are competing for attention in June of 2018,” she said.

The late Rep. Peter Kocot, who died in February, filed the original House version of the bill. Domenitz said he had been the measure’s “quarterback,” and his passing left backers “a little bit at sea.” Nonetheless, she said, a majority of lawmakers support the idea.

“This would just be win-win-win,” she said. “It would enable more people to register, it would make the system more accurate because data will be being collected in a more efficient way, and I think it’s 12 other states that have this, so we need to catch up.”

The Elections Law Committee endorsed its redrafted automatic voter registration bill and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee on March 22.

That same day, Secretary of State William Galvin, the state’s top elections official, held a press conference calling for passage of the bill this year, in order to have automatic registration in place for the 2020 elections.


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