VT House Passes Automatic Voter Registration!

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Today, the Vermont House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) in Vermont. With a vote of 137-0 on H. 458, House members stood up to modernize our voter registration system and reduce the barriers to democratic participation at a time when many states around the country are working to make it more difficult for Americans to exercise their right to vote. This is a great step forward for voters, for democracy, and for Vermont.

How does it work? Currently, voter registration at the DMV requires Vermonters to “opt in” to voter registration. AVR flips this around. Under H. 458, Vermonters who apply for or renew their driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) who meet the voter eligibility requirements will be automatically registered to vote through the Secretary of State’s office, unless they opt out of the system.

What are the benefits? The bill passed with unanimous support because it is a commonsense step that will help increase voter participation, improve the accuracy of voter rolls, and it is cost effective for the state.

In the last election, voter turnout in Vermont was one of the lowest in our history at around 45% of registered voters. And that doesn’t even factor in those Vermonters who were not registered to vote. We know that hurdles like registration deadlines, language barriers, and lack of knowledge about registration places and processes have prevented millions of Americans from voting in recent elections. [1] Modern registration systems like AVR can help to remove these unnecessary barriers and allow more eligible voters to participate in our elections.

In Vermont, the DMV already has the ability to collect voter registration information. Under AVR, the DMV will send accurate and current information to the voter registration system, so duplicate and outdated registrations can be more easily fixed and deleted. Further, transitioning away from paper can reduce human error in the voter registration process, from poor handwriting to manual entry mistakes. AVR systems help eliminate these errors, reduce potential for voter fraud, and make elections more secure. [2]

By reducing paper processing, mailing, and staff costs associated with paper registration, AVR could potentially increase voter registration at a lower cost to the state. In Vermont, the DMV already electronically transmits opt-in voter information to the Secretary of State’s office, so there are no additional costs associated with this transfer.

Who else has Automatic Voter Registration? Oregon was the first state to pass and implement AVR, and they are already seeing the benefits. In the first six days after the law went into effect, more than 4,000 Oregonians were registered to vote for the first time and over 17,000 existing registrations have been updated to reflect new addresses since the law was implemented on January 1st[3] California also approved AVR last fall, and is in the process of implementing the new system.

Alongside online voter registration and Election Day registration, Vermont is clearing the obstacles to greater participation in our democratic system. There are many factors that affect our country’s low voter turnout rates, but modernizing our voter registration system is a necessary step to ensuring that eligible Vermonters can exercise their fundamental right to vote. We’ll be following the bill closely as it heads to the Senate, and we will continue working to increase voter registration and participation in Vermont.

 

[1] Kennedy, Daly, and Wright, 2015. http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/AVR_0.pdf.

[2] Brennan Center for Justice, 2015. https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/case-automatic-permanent-voter-registration

[3] Fessler, 2016. http://www.npr.org/2016/02/17/466986646/automatic-registration-is-the-latest-chapter-in-fight-over-voting-rights

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