Vermont Becomes Fourth State to Pass Automatic Voter Registration

Vermont recently became the fourth state—following Oregon, California and West Virginia—to enact automatic voter registration. Starting July 1, 2017, eligible Vermont residents will be automatically registered to vote when they apply for a state driver’s license.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles will have a system that identifies the eligible voters and automatically sends their information to the appropriate town or city clerk for addition to voter checklists, unless the individual opts out.

“While states across the country are making it harder for voters to get to the polls, Vermont is making it easier by moving forward with commonsense policies that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said.

Shumlin signed the bill on April 28. Automatic voter registration could add 30,000 to 50,000 new voters within the first four years, according to a press release by the governor’s office.

“As Vermont’s secretary of state, I believe voting is a sacred right—one we must protect and encourage by removing unnecessary barriers,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said in the press release. “Automatic voter registration saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has pushed for all states to pass automatic voter registration. In an address to the Illinois General Assembly in February, Obama said automatic voter registration should be “the new norm across America.”

However, opponents of automatic voter registration have said the process could increase voter fraud. Some have also argued that automatic voter registration pushes people to participate in a political process against their will.

In November 2015, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that included automatic voter registration. According to an NJ.com story published Nov. 9, 2015, Christie said automatic voter registration was a “government-knows-best, backwards approach that would inconvenience citizens and waste government resources for no justifiable reason.”

More than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have considered automatic voter registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute. The center published a report in September 2015 titled, “The Case for Automatic, Permanent Voter Registration.” According to the report, automatic voter registration would permanently register up to 50 million eligible voters.

Vermont’s law came on the heels of automatic voter registration in West Virginia, which was signed by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on April 1 and also goes into effect on July 1, 2017.

“With the launch of online voter registration this past fall and the development of automatic voter registration, we are working to make sure that it is as easy as possible for eligible West Virginians to register,” West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said. “Automatic voter registration goes a long way in protecting the integrity of our elections by accurately registering all eligible voters while saving taxpayer dollars in the process.”

Oregon was the first state to enact automatic voter registration in March 2015. The law went into effect on Jan. 1. According to a story published in the Portland Tribune on April 5, the Oregon law had added about 25,000 voters to registration rolls. The past monthly average, the newspaper reported, was 2,000.

California followed Oregon with a law passed in October 2015. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla estimated that more than 6.6 million Californians were eligible but unregistered to vote.

For additional information about automatic voter registration, visit the CSG Knowledge Center at knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/content/automatic-voter-registration-proposals-gaining-traction.

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