A teenager who finally gets that coveted driver’s license need not wait impatiently for documents to show up in the mail to slide behind the wheel. Pass the exam and you can walk out to a car and drive yourself home, to school or to work, provided you have a set of keys.
Workers who turn up for a new job likewise aren’t required to sit on their hands as a hiring manager calls the government to check the validity of an ID. Photocopies get made, you sign your name, and you start work.
Why, then, must someone with proof of residency wait three weeks before being allowed to step into a voting booth? In Massachusetts, would-be voters face a 20-day registration cutoff to participate in an election. Instead, those eligible to vote should be able to visit a polling place, register and cast a ballot, all in the same trip.
The state Senate is, once again, considering a measure to allow people to register and vote on the same day. Even though Gov. Charlie Baker this past week cited the complexities of same-day registration as reason to oppose it, lawmakers would do better to listen to the top election official in Massachusetts, Secretary of State William Galvin, who is a supporter.
While it’s certainly too late to do anything about the needless wait in time for this fall’s local elections, less than two months away, there’s plenty of opportunity to act for state and congressional elections in 2022.
As it is, Massachusetts is left off a list of 20 states and the District of Columbia that give voters the convenience. Even in New Hampshire, voters with proof of residency are allowed to register and vote in an election on the same day; the state then conducts a check to verify both the New Hampshire address and that someone did not cast a ballot in another state. (To be sure, some lawmakers are trying to scuttle same-day registration, which passed in New Hampshire 27 years ago as a dodge to the national “Motor Voter” law calling for registration of those who get driver’s licenses.)
States with same-day registration use myriad procedures to secure their elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Technology checks, in real time, determine whether voters have cast ballots elsewhere. Some states hold aside ballots cast by people who registered on the same day until their applications can be verified. In some, same-day registration is allowed only at certain polling places.
The convenience translates into democracy, according to research cited by the state lawmakers group. Same-day registration increases voter turnout from 3% to 7%. The group also notes research that shows no evidence that allowing people to register and vote at the same time translates into a partisan advantage one way or another, or that it benefits any particular group over another.
The benefit of same-day registration is simply more engagement, more participation and a healthier democracy.
“I think it’s something we should have,” state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws, told State House News Service more than a year ago. At the time, advocates estimated that same-day registration could add as many as 100,000 people to the state’s voter rolls of 4.4 million.
The pandemic and fears of spreading COVID-19 saw states everywhere thinking creatively to allow voters ease of access — whether by lengthening early voting periods, expanding mail-in balloting or making it far easier to get your ballot back to the town clerk in time to be counted.
Last year’s baseless claims of election fraud egged on a countermovement seeking to draw tighter limits around elections. And it does so at the peril of our representative democracy.
Our system works better when more people are engaged at the ballot box — and that only happens when voting is more, not less, convenient.