Mountain State Surprise: West Virginia Voter ID Compromise Also Adds Automatic Registration


[Image via all-flags-world]

In February 2014, I wrote (skeptically) about a proposal by Ohio State’s Dan Tokaji suggesting a “grand bargain” that would trade voter ID for registration reforms. At the time, I was pretty skeptical that such a bargain would succeed, saying that “I’m not really sure even the most die-hard supporter of voter ID would see this Election Bargain as all that Grand.”

Last week, the State of West Virginia proved me wrong.

There, state legislators have been considering a voter ID bill (HB4013) supported by Republican legislators. During consideration of the bill, Democrats proposed an amendment that would both expand the list of acceptable IDs and provide for automatic “opt-out” registration for voters using the DMV. To almost everyone’s surprise, the GOP agreed. The AP has more:

A push to automatically sign up voters that began with new laws in Oregon and California will soon likely hit a third, notably less liberal state — West Virginia.

The proposed change has taken a less-than-conventional route to the governor’s desk.

After condemning a Republican voter ID bill as the “voter suppression act,” Democrats offered an amendment to include automatic registration when people get driver’s licenses or IDs. The Republican-led Legislature accepted it without much resistance.

The reception was much cooler on the West Coast — only one Republican in California and none in Oregon voted for similar automatic registration setups. And in New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar proposal cleared by Democrats last year.

But West Virginia’s Republican Senate president had only positive things to say.

“If managed properly, automatic registration is a great benefit to our citizens and will encourage more people to go to the polls,” said Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer.

The Governor signed the bill last Friday. West Virginia Public Radio has the story:

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has signed a bill that requires voters to show some form of identification before casting a ballot at his or her polling place as well as creates an an automatic voter registration process system.

The bill was the result of a conference committee on the final night of the session that negotiated an expanded list of the forms of identification. They include:

+ Any government issued ID or permit, with or without a photo, including a voter registration card
+ Any college or high school issued ID
+ A health insurance card
+ A utility bill
+ A bank card or bank statement
+ Verification of identification by another adult who has known the voter for at least 6 months, including a poll worker

All of these requirements take effect on January 1, 2018.

I’m genuinely curious whether West Virginia’s compromise is an outlier or if this suggests that similar “bargains” are available in other states. I suspect there would have been less willingness to agree had the ID requirements been stricter, but as someone who is frequently imploring legislators and others to compromise I’m happy to see it actually happen. Kudos to both sides for finding common ground – and good luck to everyone involved who will be responsible for implementing these requirements before 2018.

I, for one, could get used to more stories where legislators seek common policy ground over the rhetorical high ground. If nothing else, it’s another reason to stay tuned …

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