Baker confident registry could handle auto voter registration

Boston Statehouse
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Recent changes at the Registry of Motor Vehicles would make it possible for Massachusetts to operate an automatic voter registration system “with a fairly high degree of integrity,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday.

After a Senate vote on Thursday, the House and Senate have each now passed a bill (H 4671) that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with MassHealth and the RMV, unless they choose to opt out.

Baker did not directly say if he supports the idea of automatic registration when asked about it at a Friday press conference, but he said he had given lawmakers “technical advice” and that the Senate picked up his recommendation of a “single path through the registry” to the secretary of state’s office.

“MassHealth data, there are big issues associated with trying to put the laws and rules associated with the Affordable Care Act together with the laws and the rules associated with who gets to vote,” Baker said. “They can certainly supplement the data that would be available to the registry on this, but the registry really needs to be the point of access to the secretary of state because they actually do some of the things that these guys either can’t do or aren’t allowed to do.”

In March, the Registry of Motor Vehicles switched to a new computer system so that the state could start issuing licenses that comply with the federal Real ID standards created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. To obtain a Real ID-compliant license drivers must now produce additional documents confirming their Social Security number, U.S. citizenship or lawful presence, and Massachusetts residency.

“The implementation of the new platform that we installed back in April, the move under state law to Real ID and lawful presence, you put those things together and it makes it possible, I believe, for the commonwealth to serve in a role like this with a fairly high degree of integrity that did not exist before,” Baker said.

The automatic registration bill passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday and the House 130-20 on June 27.

Pam Wilmot of Common Cause said Thursday she was working to have the House agree to the Senate’s changes to the bill, which could clear a path for it to advance to Baker’s desk without conference committee negotiations.

Secretary of State William Galvin said Thursday that if the current version of the bill becomes law, his office would be able to start automatically registering voters on Jan. 1, 2020, in time for that year’s presidential primaries.

“My office is ready to begin preparing for implementation of this crucial voting reform as soon as this bill is signed into law,” he said.

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