BOSTON -- With the clock on the legislative calendar ticking, good government groups are urging lawmakers to act fast to allow people to register to vote on Election Day.
Several proposals before the Legislature would allow same-day voter registration, and efforts to change the rules are collectively backed by more than 80 lawmakers.
But the bills face a looming Feb. 5 deadline -- known as Joint Rule 10 -- to report them favorably out of legislative committees to be considered in the current two-year session.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, one of the groups pushing for the changes, said lawmakers are running out of time.
“Election Day registration will help protect the fundamental right of every American to have their vote counted,” Wilmot told a gathering of volunteers who visited the Statehouse on Tuesday to lobby for the bills. “It’s a fail-safe to allow eligible voters to cast their ballots. It has been working well for 40 years across the country.”
At least 21 states and Washington D.C. have Election Day registration, which research has shown increases turnout in states like New Hampshire, Wilmot said.
Attorney General Maura Healey said the changes are needed to boost turnout and push back against efforts in other states aimed at suppressing voter turnout.
In Massachusetts, an estimated 15% of the state’s eligible voters -- about 780,000 people -- were left off voter rolls ahead of the last statewide election, she said.
“We need to ensure that Massachusetts is at the forefront of making sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote,” Healey said. “This goes to the heart of our democracy.”
Under the current rules, Massachusetts voters must be registered at least 20 days before a municipal, state or federal election in order to cast a ballot.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2018 that requiring people to register to vote 20 days before an election doesn’t violate their constitutional rights. Its ruling overturned a decision by a Superior Court judge that the cutoff violates the state Constitution.
The proposals before lawmakers would allow eligible voters to show up at a designated polling station on Election Day and register with proof of citizenship and residency. They wouldn’t have to show photo identification.
More than 4.5 million people are registered to vote in Massachusetts. The majority, about 54%, are not affiliated with a political party.
A similar proposal was floated four years ago but failed to make it into a final bill overhauling the state’s election laws.
The push for same-day registration has won support from Secretary of State Bill Galvin, a Democrat, who ironically fought in court to uphold the state’s 20-day cutoff.
Still, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has previously said he’s reluctant to support same-day registration.
To be sure, the state has taken steps in recent years to boost voter enrollment and turnout by allowing automatic and online registration as well as early voting.
The state also gives 16- and 17-year-olds the option to submit information in advance so that they are immediately registered to vote on their 18th birthdays.
But voting rights advocates say allowing same-day registration is a logical extension of those changes that will make it even easier to cast a ballot.
“Voting is not just a responsibility, it’s also a right,” Wilmot said. “We need to remove unnecessary barriers, and this is one of them.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.