A more advanced method for US voters, called automatic or universal voter registration, was recently passed by the House in the hope of increasing registration rates and voter engagement.
Automatic voter registration will replace all paper-based registration and register residents without them having to lift a finger.
Secretary of State, Denise Merrill, says the “easy and accessible” bill would gain the state another 400,000 voters.
The chambers passed House Bill 2682, Monday, on a 55-42 vote. The bill will implement automatic voter registration by requiring state motor vehicle authorities (MVAs), when receiving certain information, to direct it to the Secretary of State’s office. The “certain information” is obtained when people apply for documents such as an enhanced driver’s license, or commercial driver’s license. Residents obtaining health insurance through the state health exchange, or receiving social services that verify citizenship, would also be automatically registered.
After the information is transferred, state officials will then inform individuals of the 21 day deadline to opt out of automatic registration. If the person doesn’t opt out, they will officially be a registered voter within 60 days.
Individuals will be automatically registered unless they are already registered to vote, or if they do not meet voter registration eligibility requirements.
Before automatic registration, the government wasn’t held liable for registering voters. It was the responsibility of voter organizations, political parties, election officials, and active citizens to register voters. Now, government officials will be responsible for maintaining an accurate and complete list of voters.
According to Merrill, registering voters and keeping people’s registration information up to date when they move is a “point of frustration.”
Currently with the paper-based method, there are an abundance of omissions and duplicates. With automatic registration, the number of duplicate registrants and errors on the voters list will decrease as a result of an accurate and complete voter roll.
Duplicates and errors aren’t the only issue. According to FairVote—a non-partisan electoral reform organization—more than a third of Washingtonians, eligible to vote, aren’t registered voters. During drives, many register to vote resulting in a surge of registration applications, close to elections, that are difficult to process in that short period of time, and create hasty demands for polling locations. With automatic registration, state officials are hoping to get state residents more involved and engaged in voting.
This process—automatic voter registration—eases the burden of voter registration on the state and distances the burden from municipalities. According to Merrill this would add to initiatives such as same day or online registration, which have been enacted recently.
Currently in Washington State, the measure is on its way to the Senate for consideration.