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Election Day registration on track; Augustus advocates bill for convenience of voters.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - A bill to allow Election Day voter registration advanced at the Statehouse yesterday, coming out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws with a favorable recommendation for adoption and on a track that could put the measure into effect for this year's presidential election.

State Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, state Senate chairman of the committee, said it is his hope that the bill will enable new voters and people who have moved to register to vote for the first time, or to re-register on Election Day, even if they miss the advance registration deadlines.

"Anything we can do to have the election reflect more people's voices is a good thing," Mr. Augustus said.

He cited testimony during bill hearings of election officials from Maine, Wisconsin and Iowa, where increases of 5 percent to 10 percent were reported after adopting same day voter registration.

He said voter turnout in some elections in Massachusetts in recent years has been 20 percent or less, which demonstrates the need to be make it easier to vote.

"The idea of having fewer and fewer people voting is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind," Mr. Augustus said. "My philosophy is the whole system should be designed for the convenience of voters, not the other way around for the convenience of government.

"More people are moving on a regular basis and may not know they have to re-register to vote 21 days ahead of time," the senator said.

The restriction applies to both those who have moved from one city to another, as well as to those who have moved from one precinct to another within the same city.

Under the current system, he said, "A lot of people show up at the voting place and are turned away. They show up engaged and interested and want to vote, and we turn them away.

"People move a lot more frequently than they did in the past," Mr. Augustus said, noting that many of the state's key industries lend themselves to a mobile work force.

Also affected are large numbers of college students who leave their hometowns to go to school.

The bill would require voters registering for the first time or re-registering after being dropped from the voter list by local officials, or after moving, to show a government-issued photo identification and proof of address, such as a bank statement or utility bill at the proper voting place, in order to register on the day of the election.

They also would have to sign an oath under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen eligible to vote.

Once registered, they could then vote in all subsequent primaries and elections.

Mr. Augustus, who announced recently he will not seek re-election, has said enactment of the same day voter law is one of his top priorities before leaving office.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick has supported the change.

He said the bill will be referred first to the Senate, where he hopes to see it voted on soon, and it would then go to the House for consideration.

The law actually would only provide for use of same day registration for statewide general elections in 2008 and 2010, but not primary elections. It would expire in 2011 without reauthorization.

It also would change the preregistration deadline from 20 days to 14 days before primaries and elections.


CUTLINE: Mr. Augustus
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 22, 2008
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