OPINION | Barry Richard: Auto Registration Won’t Improve Voter Turnout
Some in state government believe that requiring new voters to actually take responsibility for registering to vote is hampering turnout at the polls and have sponsored legislation to automatically register qualified individuals to vote. Why not just take the driver's license exam for them too?
The bill's sponsor, State Rep. James M. Murphy (D-Weymouth), recently told the Boston Globe;
"Our local election officials do a terrific job; yet, an outdated voter registration system can make it difficult for highly mobile voters to participate." He says; "Maintaining up-to-date voter registration is a challenge for military and young families, disabled seniors and low income voters."
Murphy says automatic voter registration;
"would help ensure everyone can participate while also improving the accuracy and security of our voting system."
Dominick Ianno, a Walpole resident, member of the Republican State Committee and former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Republican Party disagrees. Ianno tells the Globe;
"Is the voter registration process really so complicated that it affects participation, thus requiring a new automatic enrollment system?"
Ianno says it is fairly simple for anyone truly interested in voting to register;
"A Massachusetts resident can register to vote online, by mail or in person at certain state agencies and municipal offices."
Ianno sites statistics from the Secretary of State's office in the Globe article indicating that more than 4.5 million Massachusetts residents were registered to vote in the November 2016 election, yet only 75 percent of them cast a ballot. That means well over 1 million registered voters did not participate in the process. He says numbers are even lower in state and local elections;
"There is no compelling need to automatically enroll people to vote when so may of those already registered don't participate. In addition, automatic enrollment would add a new cost burden on state and local government agencies."
Under Murphy's bill, people would be automatically registered or their information updated when they interact with a state agency, unless they decline. The information is electronically added to the voter rolls after being double-checked by local officials.
Murphy says several other states have adopted automatic registration adding hundreds of thousands of new voters to the rolls. But, just simply adding people to the voting rolls does not make them voters. It simply makes them numbers in a data base.
As a traditionalist who enjoys voting and takes it seriously I remain staunchly in favor of requiring people to take a few moments to register. I know it's old school, but requiring someone to make an effort for something so worthwhile is not too much to ask.
Oh, and for those like Democrat Lieutenant Governor candidate Quentin Palfrey who suggests the current registration process makes it harder for "people of color, students and non-native English speakers to vote," I disagree.
Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.