Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed a new bill into law on Thursday that could add hundreds of thousands of residents to the state’s voting rolls in the coming years.
Under the new provision, residents will be automatically registered to vote when they make a transaction at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth, the state Medicaid program. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020 ― “just in time for the next presidential primaries,” the state’s election chief said ― and early estimates say up to 680,000 people could be added to the rolls in the next five years, according to MassLive.
People can choose to opt-out of the system, which could be expanded to other state agencies if they meet specific criteria.
“We think it is one of the strongest automatic voter registration bills in the country,” Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe.
The state is the 14th, plus the District of Columbia, to make automatic voter registration law. The move was hailed by voting rights advocates.
“Voting should be simple, accessible, and protected, especially in light of national efforts to limit access to the polls,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “With automatic voter registration, Beacon Hill has acted to engage nearly 700,000 more eligible Massachusetts voters in the democratic process. This is a victory for voters, and for a healthy and vibrant democracy.”
Lawmakers began the push for such legislation last year, citing low voter turnout in local elections.
“Not doing this is really a form of voter suppression. To not do this, it doesn’t make sense,” State Sen. Cynthia Creem said in November. She said Thursday she was “so proud” that the bill had been signed into law, sharing her brief note with the #votingisaright.