Zakim holds hearing on simplifying voter registration

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

With another preliminary election come and gone with a low voter turnout of about 14 percent, one City Councilor is trying to figure out ways to increase voter turnout by making it easier to register to vote.

The City Council’s Special Committee on Civil Rights, headed by City Councilor Josh Zakim, held a public hearing on Sept. 28, at Boston University to listen to ideas on how to make it easier and more accessible to register eligible voters in the City of Boston.

“It’s about representing the populations,” said Jonathan Cohn a resident of the Fenway and treasurer of the Ward 4 Democrat Committee. “If you’re not on the voter polls, candidates don’t see you. If you don’t have updated information, they will not be reaching out to you to ask for your vote.”

Massachusetts currently has a voter registration cutoff law that requires voters to register at least 20 days prior to participating in an election. Boston’s voter registration requires residents to actively ‘opt-in’ to the registration process.

Even though Superior Court judge has recently stopped this practice, the 20-day cutoff is still on the books and the judge’s order is being appealed.

Zakim is calling for the elimination of voter registration deadlines and allowing same-day voter registration – an act that will require state action through a Home Rule Petition.

Currently there are 11 states that have same day voter registration including the nearby New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

The current restrictions on registration disenfranchise voters, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority residents according to Josh Young from Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD).

“Education is the tool that best helps residents,” said Young. “We work to provide tools available to 5,000 folks who walk through out doors every year – again its persistent communication that would get the vote across.”

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