Green Mountain Milestone: Vermont Adopts Automatic Voter Registration

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[Image via all-flags-world]

Last week, Vermont became the latest state to adopt automatic voter registration. The Associated Press has more:

While voting rights advocates lament new ballot access restrictions in several states, Vermont on Thursday became the fourth state to expand access when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that automatically registers eligible residents to vote when they apply for a driver’s license. [Bill text of H.458 as passed is here – ed.]

“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 common-sense polices that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy,” the Democrat said as he signed the bill.

The Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University School of Law seconded that.

“Vermont’s broad support and adoption of automatic voter registration should be a signal to the rest of the country,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. He said the law “will boost the security of our elections and could increase voter participation.”

The Vermont law streamlines voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles with a system that identifies eligible Vermont residents and automatically sends their information to the town or city clerk for addition to the checklist, unless they opt out.

Vermont’s law will go into effect July 1, 2017. Oregon, California and West Virginia have similar laws. The Brennan Center reported that Oregon’s rate of new registrations per month quadrupled after that state’s law took effect.

I think it’s now safe to say that while automatic registration isn’t yet sweeping the nation, it is getting enough of a foothold nationally that it will likely be on the radar of election officials and policymakers in other states. The big thing to watch going forward will be implementation; for now, only Oregon is actually doing automatic registration – and its experiences will be crucial to its counterparts in Vermont and elsewhere seeking to follow in its footsteps in 2017 and beyond.

For now, though, kudos to Secretary of State Jim Condos and his office for their work on this bill. It’s too soon to tell if automatic registration will have the same steep adoption curve of OVR, but you can bet that it will be on advocacy and legislative agendas around the nation going forward.

Stay tuned …

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