Hersh-Galvin: Round 2

What is a good voter?

In an interview with the Boston Globe’s Joshua Miller earlier this week, Secretary of State William Galvin responded to a critical essay I wrote about his leadership in managing elections.

To combat my claim that his administration is “low-energy,” Galvin first touted that the state has “the highest number of eligible voters we’ve ever had.” That is incorrect. According to the Secretary of State’s website, the most recent published count of registered voters is actually down more than 70,000 people since 2012.  But Galvin’s claim is odd because we typically care about the percent of citizens who are registered, not the count. The truth is that Massachusetts registration numbers are not keeping pace with population growth. As a percent of eligible citizens, voter registration is currently down about 4 percent. (Counts of eligible voters in each election can be found here.)

Second, Galvin claims that “the turnouts have been high as well. In [each of] the last two presidential cycles, we’ve had over three million people vote.” If Galvin is taking credit for high turnout in presidential elections, I assume he feels responsible for the extraordinarily low turnout that Massachusetts witnessed in the most recent midterm election. In 2014, 44.7 percent of eligible citizens cast ballots. That’s down 10 percent from the previous midterm election in 2010.

Third, Galvin decided to look up my own voting record. He is quoted as saying: “Mr. Hersh himself is not a very good voter. When he did vote here in Massachusetts, he didn’t vote all that much.”

This claim is odd, too. For one thing, I am currently a voter in Massachusetts, and I have been one for the last nine years.  For another, according to Brookline Town Hall, I have voted on 15 separate occasions in the last nine years, including all six state general and special elections. If Galvin thinks that this doesn’t count as voting “all that much,” he might be surprised to look at how often the average citizen of the Commonwealth votes.

But let me turn Galvin’s personal comment into a more useful policy recommendation. The most likely reason why Galvin mistakenly claimed I am not a current voter is that, like most people under 35, I have moved a bunch of times. In the last 10 years, I have lived in four different apartments in Massachusetts. If Galvin did more to promote same-day-registration, a policy that has worked so well in other states, he would have an easier time tracking young voters and renters, who are highly mobile and often fall through the cracks of our residence-based election system.

Second, while I have voted in all the general elections, I don’t vote in every off-cycle local election. For instance, Brookline just hosted town elections on May 3. There was not a single contested race in my precinct, so of course I didn’t vote. But it is a problem that we have so many different election dates for local offices. As I have argued before, we need a state policy for consolidating elections. Whenever possible, local elections ought to be held concurrent with state elections. Not only is consolidation a cost savings for municipalities, it would massively increase participation in local elections.

Election consolidation and same-day-registration are just two of many important policies that the secretary of state could, in theory, spend his time working on.

Meet the Author

Eitan Hersh

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University
Eitan Hersh is assistant professor of political science at Yale University and author of Hacking the Electorate. His expertise is in American politics, election administration, and information technology. He lives in Brookline.