The Case for Automatic Voter Registration

Increasing voter turnout in the U.S. will mean addressing the obstacles that keep people from participating at each step of the process.  Currently in most U.S. states the first hurdle is getting registered to vote. Increasing voter registration is often difficult because it has to happen months before an election when there is less excitement and less motivation to take action. This may seem like an inevitable challenge of the democratic process but the truth is that voter registration is only an impediment to participation because most places require people to take action and opt in to registering. Making the process of voter registration automatic removes the first obstacle to voting, facilitates increased participation, and can help make sure that the voter rolls are more accurate and current.

The process of automatic voter registration (AVR) is fairly simple and basically what it sounds like; a person is automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, or depending on the state, complete other state paperwork. In AVR states, when someone fills in the paperwork to get a license their information goes directly from the DMV to the election office and then they are registered as a voter unless they take steps to opt out. As of this summer, 10 states and DC have some form of AVR.

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Automatic Voter Registration Passes In Illinois

Illinois this week became the 10th state to pass automatic voter registration.  Good.  More states should follow suit.  There are few election reforms that are as straightforward to implement, and provide so much benefit to the electoral process.

Under the Illinois law, whenever someone interacts with the DMV or other state agency, they are registered to vote.  If they don’t want to be registered, they can opt out.  But there is no action they have to take to be registered.

Not only does this increase the number of registered voters, but it helps to clean up the voter rolls, correct mistakes, and achieve many of the goals that the Voter Suppression…sorry, Voter Fraud Commission is supposedly focused on.

Past experience shows how effective this reform is.  From the NYT article:

Meanwhile in Oregon, which in 2015 became the first state to pass automatic voter registration, more than 272,000 people were registered in the law’s first year, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. Of these, 116,000 were found to be unlikely to have registered otherwise, and 40,000 of that group voted in 2016, helping Oregon achieve the nation’s largest turnout increase from 2012 — 4.1 points, to 68.3 percent. Contrary to Republican fears, that increase did not equal Democratic gains. Democrats lost seats in the State Legislature, even though the new voters were more racially diversethan previously registered voters.

In other words, increasing voter participation should be a bipartisan project.