Mass. Considering Same-Day Registration

The latest polls indicate that Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are running neck and neck in the Massachusetts primary. Unfortunately for those who are not signed up yet, the Commonwealth does not allow residents simultaneously to register and cast their vote on election day.

Seven states have implemented some form of Election Day Registration (EDR), a policy that permits voters to register when they arrive at the polls. A bill that would allow EDR in Massachusetts is currently being considered in the State Senate.

The policy is shown to increase voter turnout, especially among young people. In 2004, almost 59 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 cast a ballot in EDR states, while only 41 percent of their peers in non-EDR states did, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

State Senator Edward M. Augustus, a Democrat from Worcester and one of the sponsors of the EDR bill, noted that the policy would benefit Massachusetts because it has “tons of students.”

“If they get excited, they should be able to vote,” he said. “An otherwise informed voter, motivated voter, isn’t able to vote if they didn’t meet the government’s arbitrary deadline.”

Massachusetts currently requires voters to register 20 days before an election.

David C. King, a public policy lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, said that common objections to EDR include the idea that people who don’t bother to register before elections won’t make informed decisions and that EDR may make an election more vulnerable to fraud.

But former leaders of the Institute of Politic’s Harvard Voter Outreach and Turnout Effort (H-VOTE), a program that asked students to pledge to vote, said that EDR would likely increase the number of Harvard students voting in Massachusetts.

“A lot of people’s reasons for not pledging to vote were, ‘Sorry, I forgot to register,’” said Jeremy A. Cypen ’09, one of Mather House’s former H-VOTE captains. “You wonder what they would have said if there had been same-day registration.”

Yelun D. Qin ’10 said that although he is not registered, he would consider signing up in Massachusetts if the state implemented EDR.

“I’d be more willing because there are no other conflicts, and it’s easier,” he said.

Students who are registered to vote in Massachussets can cast their ballots at Quincy House, the Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall, or Cambridge’s Graham and Parks Alternative School.

—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at showland@fas.harvard.edu.