Progress: Tennessee and Washington Move Forward on Registration Reforms


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Even with the election year upon us, states are continuing to propose changes that would expand registration opportunities for their citizens.

The first is from Tennessee, where legislation has been filed to add the Volunteer State to the list of states offering online voter registration. has more:

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, say it’s time to let would-be Tennessee voters join with those in 29 other states and be allowed to register to vote online.

McCormick and Yager, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, announced today they have filed legislation to do just that. The measure provides for establishing an online voter registration system for Tennesseans with a number of what the lawmakers say are safeguards.

Voters with an unexpired driver’s license or personal identification card issues by the state Department of Safety would be able to go to an official state website where they will be able to register to vote online…

Under Senate Bill 1626/House Bill 1742, the voter registration application would be reviewed electronically.  If the request is confirmed as valid, the new registration would be added to the state’s voter registration list after being reviewed by the respective county election commission offices. 

Validation is done by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided by the same individual when he or she received a driver’s license or their state-issued identification card.

The legislation has the support of the Secretary of State as well:

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees Tennessee elections, is on board.

“This is an opportunity for us to meet customers, the taxpayers, where they are and provide them yet another way they can register to vote,” Hargett said. “Tennesseans will have the ability to register from the comfort of their homes and even in the palm of their hands on mobile devices.

 “This proposal is about making government work better for its constituents,” Hargett added.

The signature already on record with the state would become the signature on record for voting. If the information does not match, the applicant would be directed to print and complete the application and mail it to the county election commission office in their county of residence to be processed.

There is also news out of Washington State, where Secretary of State Kim Wyman is partnering with Democrats in the legislature to sponsor a bill that would create the state’s own version of automatic voter registration. According to a press release:

Increasing voter registration and participation in elections in Washington state is the aim of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and the House by Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, in cooperation with Kim Wyman, the Republican Secretary of State. 

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Jayapal said. “Yet while our state is a leader in so many things, we are struggling to get Washingtonians to cast ballots and have their voices heard. It is the duty of elected officials, regardless of party, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard. That is the goal of this bill. There should be no barriers between the people and voting, and with this bill one more barrier has been removed. We have worked very hard over the past several months to develop a bipartisan piece of legislation that fits Washington’s particular needs.” 

SB 6379/HB 2682 would automatically register eligible voters who have an enhanced driver’s license, commercial driver’s license or apply for benefits for certain programs through the Department of Social and Health Services or the state Health Benefits Exchange. Participation in these programs already requires citizenship verification. State and federal law restrict voting to citizens, 18 and older.

The bill provides an opt-out opportunity for those who decline to be registered. The bill also would update addresses for those who are automatically registered.

These two developments illustrate the power of reform trends in election policy. Early in 2014, I wondered where the “tipping point” would be on OVR – and it appears we have passed it given the increasing pace with with states like Tennessee are proposing and enacting the change. And while it’s too soon to call automatic registration and opt-out a trend, the fact that two states (Oregon and California) have adopted it while a third (Washington) is considering it with considerable support suggests that we could soon (if not immediately) see a similar spread of the idea from state to state. One key factor will be whether automatic registration has the same strong record of working in practice as OVR, which has helped overcome inertia and partisan fears as the number of states reaches the low 30s. [It also helped that OVR got – and still gets – such a strong push from the members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.]

Still, it’s hard not to be amazed at how quickly these reforms have taken hold – and it makes you wonder whether we will see the same steep curve with regard to automatic registration.

To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, reform moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Stay tuned …

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