By Edward Mason
BOSTON — Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan blasted a Beacon Hill plan to allow same-day voter registration, saying it would open the "floodgates" to fraud.
The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal today. Beginning in November, it would allow people to register to vote at their town or city hall and then cast their ballot.
"This would open the floodgates for potential fraud in cities and towns where it might be an issue," Sullivan said yesterday. "This is the most ridiculous proposal I've heard when it comes to voting in my seven years (as mayor)."
Sullivan said letting people sign up to vote on Election Day would be problematic for town and city clerks and possibly create a major expense for communities needing to verify voters' identity.
"(They're) saying, 'Bring in the fraud and put the burden and expense on cities and towns to sort out after the election,'" Sullivan said.
The bill's major proponent, Sen. Edward Augustus, D-Worcester, said Sullivan's concerns are unfounded.
"There's no increase in fraud allegations" with same-day registration, Augustus said. "The only thing that increases is voter participation."
Augustus pointed to studies showing as many as 220,000 more people would vote if they could register at the polls.
The bill, aimed at helping people who moved but didn't re-register to vote, would contain current antifraud safeguards. Voters would still have to show proof of identification and residency, such as a driver's license and utility bill. They would also have to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.
Five states, including Maine and New Hampshire, allow same-day registration.
"I never hear of New Hampshire being a hotbed of voter fraud," Augustus said.
Lawrence elections, though, are plagued by constant complaints of voter fraud. Earlier this year, the Legislature shot down a Lawrence-backed proposal requiring voters to show a photo identification card.
Augustus, chairman of the Senate Election Laws Committee, helped kill the measure. Sullivan was flabbergasted to learn that Augustus' voter registration bill was getting a vote and Lawrence's bill did not.
"It opens my eyes on why the voter initiative was scrapped," Sullivan said.
Augustus contends the Lawrence bill would be bad law. He reasoned that Lawrence could not hold elections under different standards than the rest of the state.
Moreover, the Legislature could not approve such a significant change without proof of voter fraud. Sullivan said he's not aware of any confirmed voter fraud in Lawrence.
Sullivan isn't the only local skeptic of same-day registration. Rep. William Lantigua, D-Lawrence, said he would vote against the bill if it makes it to the House.
"Those people who make those comments (about voter fraud) would have another reason or excuse for crying foul," Lantigua said.
Sen. Susan C. Tucker, an Andover Democrat who represents Lawrence, said the bill's requirements protect against fraud.
The bill requires all precincts to be equipped by 2010 to register voters on Election Day. Tucker said she's worried communities will be overwhelmed.
"I'm concerned about any new costs for cities and towns," Tucker said.
The legislative clock is working in Sullivan's favor.
The Legislature's formal session ends July 31. In that short time, the bill would have to pass both the House and Senate, have any differences resolved before being sent to Gov. Deval Patrick, and then be signed by the governor within 10 days.
And there would be almost no time to override a veto.
"It's going to be a challenge," Augustus said.