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Council supports automatic voter registration

October 6, 2017

City Council

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City Council

The City Council passed a resolution in support of Massachusetts House Bill 2091 and Senate Bill 373 - An Act Automatically Registering Eligible Voters.

On October 4, 2017, a Resolution in support of Massachusetts House Bill 2091 and Senate Bill 373, An Act Automatically Registering Eligible Voters, passed unanimously during the City Council Meeting. Councilor O’Malley stated, “We need to make it easier not harder for people to vote, this is a fantastic first step and this is just going to benefit so much down the line.”   

Our neighboring states Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut - along with Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Oregon, and West Virginia - have embraced automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration has been widely hailed as a success in the states that have implemented it, and it has increased registration rates among young adults, low-income communities, and people of color.

On September 28, 2017, the Special Committee on Civil Rights conducted a hearing regarding voter registration in the City of Boston. The current 20 day voter registration deadline was discussed as well as its effect on students, workers, and those who are at a disadvantage. A high school student from the Student Advisory Panel at Boston Public Schools stated that his peers have a great deal of priorities including applying for college, playing after school sports, and completing assignments. He recommended that a good way to get his peers to vote would be for students to be able to register with their guidance counselor, and provide them with community service hours for voting.

Monica Roberts, Assistant Superintendent of Engagement for Boston Public Schools, suggested promulgating the relevant information on how students can register to vote in the welcome centers, where 40,000 students visit every year.

The possibility of a late start time for eligible students to vote on election days, and even paid or unpaid time off for professionals to vote during the work day was also discussed.  

Josh Young, the Director of Legislative Affairs from ABCD, declared the 20 day voter registration deadline as a form of disenfranchisement and subtle voter suppression. Young described how the deadline puts residents who cannot stay stable in their daily lives at a disadvantage when it comes to electing their leaders. Councilor Zakim recognized that the populations that ends up being disenfranchised by arbitrary rules are the voices that need to be heard the loudest.  

One member of the public who testified at the hearing stated the significance of the massive September 1st moving day in Boston, and how it causes a major disenfranchisement to a large amount of people who have a change of address so close to the election; and, therefore are not able to vote.  Councilor Zakim stated, “Many people, especially in myself and Councilor Ciommo’s districts, have just moved on September 1st, and unless you’re planning on going to register to vote on the day you just moved in… you are missing a deadline.” He followed up with, “We’re talking about our right to vote, as our fundamental right that protects all of our other rights in our society, and whatever we can do to lower those barriers is important.”