RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday unveiled a new voter-registration initiative that managed not to rankle Republicans — quite a feat for a swing-state governor with a buddy on the ballot in a presidential election year.
McAuliffe (D) said that Virginia’s motor vehicle offices, which have handled voter registrations since 1996, are making that paper-based process into an electronic one.
The change will eliminate processing delays that can require the use of provisional ballots on Election Day, McAuliffe said at a news conference at a Richmond Department of Motor Vehicles office. It also will cut down on the use of staff time and paper at the DMV.
Each year, the DMV mails more than 500,000 completed paper voter registration applications to the Department of Elections, which in turn sorts and mails them out to local registrars around the state. Starting this month, that information will be transmitted from the DMV to elections officials with the touch of a button.
“This makes government more efficient, it saves our taxpayers money, and it makes our democracy more accessible,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe has incensed GOP foes with other voting-related changes — from a tweak to registration forms that would make questions about citizenship and criminal history optional, to a sweeping order to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.
In those cases, Republicans accused McAuliffe of trying to boost turnout this fall for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, his longtime friend and political ally.
Republican legislative leaders have filed a lawsuit to try to block McAuliffe’s restoration-of-rights order, which the governor says was intended to help convicts who have completed their sentences fully reenter society.
Critics say the governor wrongly included some violent felons on the list, as well as some sex offenders who have completed their sentences but remain civilly committed because they are considered dangerous. They also note that the change in voting rights inadvertently made it easier for felons to regain the right to own a gun.
The voting-registration change announced Thursday, however, elicited not a peep from the governor’s usual adversaries.
The state began rolling out the new system Friday at a single Richmond DMV office. More than 500 DMV customers had taken advantage of the service by Thursday morning, McAuliffe said.
Also since Friday, Virginians have been able to update their addresses for both voting and DMV purposes via the DMV’s Web site, dmvNOW.com. More than 8,000 Virginians have used that option so far.
After announcing the changes on Thursday, McAuliffe stepped behind the counter of the state agency office, greeting customers as if he were the world’s most cheerful DMV clerk.
Sarah Porter of Richmond, a 24-year-old middle-school counselor, had come to the office to renew her driver’s license. She got herself on the voter rolls in an instant.
McAuliffe, who helped wait on her, watched the electronic screen as it blinked green to indicate that she’d been registered.
“You’re in,” he said. “There’s the green light.”