Citizens who renew their driver’s licenses or enroll in state health care would automatically become registered voters under a bill passed by the Massachusetts House.
The bill, which the House passed Wednesday, still needs the approval of the Senate and governor, but supporters said it would help increase voter turnout in elections. If adopted into law, eligible people who do business with the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth would automatically become registered voters.
Local city and town clerks would send them a postcard to designate themselves as a Democrat, Republican or independent. The card would also give the person the opportunity to opt out of being a registered voter.
The local House delegation was divided over the bill. State Reps. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, and Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, voted for it while Reps. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, and Jay Barrows, RMansfield, opposed it.
Hawkins said he supported it because there are 700,000 eligible voters in Massachusetts who are not registered and the bill would help fix that.
“We should make it easier to vote,” he said.
Hawkins noted that most people no longer visit city halls because they pay their bills and do other transactions online, so they don’t see the voter registration office.
Supporters said the legislation could increase voting by 5 percent.
Dooley said he has his doubts about how effective the bill will be, but as a former town clerk he is in favor of almost any measure to get more participation in elections.
He said he got two amendments attached to the bill. One will have Massachusetts contribute to a national database of voters and the other would require the state to train local election commissioners.
The opponents said they feared the cost of running the program would fall to cities and towns with no state aid. “It puts a tremendous burden on the towns,” Poirier said, noting that North Attleboro only has two people working in its elections office.
Barrows said another consideration he had is that inaccurate information could get into the voting rolls. He also said he believes automatic registration goes too far.
Howitt said he believes it is already easy to register to vote if people are willing to make the effort.
“If a person wants to vote, they will make the effort to vote,” he said.
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