BOSTON — The Massachusetts House on Wednesday passed a bill that would establish automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.
That means anyone who updates their driver’s license at an RMV or applies for MassHealth, and is an adult U.S. citizen, would automatically have their name registered in the state’s voter database unless they choose to opt out.
“This is just another way to make it simpler … for people to vote,” said Rep. John Mahoney, D-Worcester, chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. Mahoney said automatic voter registration could eliminate confusion at the polls and drive up youth participation in elections.
He estimated that voter turnout would increase by about 5 percent.
“We should be encouraging everyone to register to vote, to participate in our electoral process,” said Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Automatic voter registration just makes it easier for them to register to vote, and hopefully that will increase citizen participation in our elections.”
The bill, H.4667, passed the House 130-20. It now goes to the Senate for consideration, then to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Lawmakers have until the legislative session ends on July 31 to get the bill to Baker’s desk. Baker has not yet taken a position on the bill.
The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, in time for that year’s presidential election.
Advocates of automatic voter registration have pushed for the bill as a way to boost voter turnout by making it easier for people to register to vote.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said there are about 700,000 U.S. citizens living in Massachusetts who are eligible to vote but are not registered.
Wilmot said voters who move frequently, young people and rural voters are the ones most likely to benefit, based on the experiences of other states.
Wilmot said automatic voter registration results in more accurate voter lists, since the system is better able to track when someone moves.
The bill would also require Massachusetts to join a national system in which states voluntarily compare databases to catch when someone moves from state to state.
“The new system mostly means more accuracy in our voting lists and a larger number of registered voters,” Wilmot said. “We believe that will also increase voter participation in elections.”
Mahoney said the bill would cost about $500,000 to implement the first year, for software and mailing costs, and $50,000 annually after that.
Galvin’s Democratic primary challenger, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, held a press conference outside the Statehouse on Wednesday in support of the bill.
Zakim noted that Massachusetts would be the 14th state to pass some form of automatic voter registration.
“It dramatically increases turnout and dramatically addresses issues of equity and access across demographics,” Zakim said. “It’s high time Massachusetts has it.”
“People often forget that the right to vote is a right, it’s not a privilege,” Zakim said. “We need to be doing everything we can to lower unnecessary barriers, make it more seamless.”
There are protections in the bill to allow domestic violence and sexual assault victims to keep their addresses confidential.