Around New England

Automatic Voter Registration Begins This Week in Massachusetts

December 30, 2019

Automatic voter registration begins in Massachusetts on Wednesday, January 1 for eligible citizens who interact with MassHealth, the Health Connector, and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

In 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed automatic voter registration into law for Massachusetts, making the Bay State the 14th state to pass such a law, according to The MetroWest Daily News.

Now, citizens will need to opt out if they do not want to register to vote.

The change is supported by Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin and Attorney General Maura Healey, among others.

“In Massachusetts, we know that 15% of people who are eligible to vote can’t vote because they aren’t registered,” Healey told the MetroWest Daily News. “That’s over 780,000 voting-age adults in our state whose voices are not counted, are not heard on election day. The result is unmistakable:  fewer people of color, lower-income residents, renters, and younger people are participating in the process.”

Galvin estimates this new law could result in 700,000 more registered eligible voters across Massachusetts.

If someone does not respond to the inquiries from MassHealth, Health Connector, or the Registry of Motor Vehicles when obtaining a driver’s license, that person will be automatically registered as unenrolled – meaning a registered voter who is a member of no political party and therefore is able to vote in any party’s primary election.

Nationwide, Massachusetts’s new policy is unpopular. A 2016 Rasmussen poll found that 51 percent of American voters opposed automatic voter registration while 34 percent favored it.

Writing for National Review in 2015, Daniel Foster explained his opposition to the policy.

“The view of democracy associated with the desire for universal or near-universal participation (we already have near-universal franchise) is facile and vicious,” he wrote. “The need to register to vote is just about the most modest restriction on ballot access I can think of, which is why it works so well as a democratic filter:  It improves democratic hygiene because the people who can’t be bothered to register (as opposed to those who refuse to vote as a means of protest) are, except in unusual cases, civic idiots.”

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