The 2016 presidential election demonstrated the lowest voter turnout (55.4%) since 1996 (53.5%).
A means some states are now adopting to combat this is automatic voter registration, the process of automatically placing someone on boards of election voter roles when he or she reaches voting age.
Up until last week, nine states and the District of Columbia practice it–Oregon, California, Alaska, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Georgia, and Colorado.
Illinois has now become the tenth, with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner signing a bill on August 28 that will empower more than one million eligible voters.
Unless they decline, Illinois residents not currently registered will be enrolled when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and other state agencies.
This is projected to not only increase voter participation, but save money and improve accuracy of voters’ information. It is unique in that Illinois’ plan is the only in the nation that expands voter registration to a range of state agencies, not just the DMV, as other states employ.
About the program, Jonathan Brater, Counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy, said:
“Automatic Voter Registration in Illinois is a huge leap forward. This groundbreaking accomplishment, brought about by the persistence of civic groups, election officials, and legislators, means a quarter of Americans now live in a state where AVR has been approved. We hope other states will follow suit.”
Andy Kang, Legal Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Chicago, and Co-Coordinator of Just Democracy Illinois, concurs.
“Automatic voter registration was understood — rightly — as a solution from nonpartisan reformers who want to make democracy work better.”
Cook County Clerk David Orr commented:
“Automatic voter registration is a win-win. For voters, it takes the burden of registration off their backs and shifts it to the government, where it should be. For election officials, it creates a tremendous tool to clean up the voter rolls, and saves money as well.”
Oregon is a testament to automatic registration’s success. It was the first state to fully implement it, and now reports some of the highest voter registration rates in the country. In fact, Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, yet each county elections office provides private booths for voters who wish to vote in person or need assistance.
In February 2016, former President Barack Obama encouraged lawmakers to “mak[e] automatic voter registration the new norm across America.”
In June, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Penn.) introduced a bill to automatically register eligible citizens to vote in federal elections when they interact with specific state and federal government entities. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) submitted identical legislation.
Twenty-seven states have already introduced automatic voter registration bills.
Image credit: smartgovcommunity.com