Thankfully, automatic voter registration is coming to Massachusetts

Voting in the state of Massachusetts is about to change. Starting in January 2020, voters will no longer need to register to vote. That’s because automatic voter registration, a policy practiced by 14 other states, will be put in place. This means that for most people they no longer have to worry about the 20-day deadline so long as they have obtained some form of ID through the state such as a driver’s license, passport, or a health insurance card.  It also means that the government will be able to save some money on the voting process.

Most importantly, it’s a change that should have already been put in place and thankfully it is finally coming.

One thing that people are really great at is putting off voting in the United States. We only see about 60 percent of people come out for the presidential election and only around 40 percent coming out for the midterms – though 2018 was an exception, with midterm turnout at 59.6 percent. One of the reasons people consistently say they don’t make it to the polls is that they forgot or don’t know how to register to vote. When Oregon implemented their automatic voter registration in 2016, turnout skyrocketed. It goes without saying that we should be able to expect similar results in  Massachusetts.

Another big benefit of automatic voter registration is the low cost to the state and tax payer. In Arizona, processing a paper registration cost the state government 83 cents per vote while an automatic voter registration at the DMV reduced that cost to 3 cents a vote, according to a 2010 Pew Research case study. After the initial cost of putting in automatic voter registration, it will only take a few years for it to pay for itself and will ultimately make our government and voting process a lot more efficient.

That isn’t to say there is no opposition. One of the biggest counter arguments to automatic voter registration is that if the voters don’t have enough responsibility or discipline to register to vote in time then they can’t possibly be an informed voter. Yet that isn’t necessarily true. Generally, the people who couldn’t register to vote and would like to have voted had some other external circumstance preventing them such as a heavy work load, trouble getting to place to register, or other difficulties life presents. They may also be young and not even know that there is a deadline or how to register to vote. Furthermore, the ones who are uninformed are typically the least likely to vote, registered or not. 

Overall, automatic voter registration leads to higher voter turnout and improves citizen participation in the electoral process. It’s too bad it hasn’t been around longer but it’s a great thing that it is finally happening for Massachusetts.

Come 2020, remind your friends and family to vote and don’t let them try and use the excuse that they didn’t register because they will no longer need too.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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