Registering to vote should be easy and it should be automatic.
While so-called motor-voter laws have helped, these laws still require residents to opt in to register to vote. In the District, the council can flip the script when we vote on the Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act at our next legislative meeting.
I introduced this bill to reduce obstacles to voter registration. Qualified residents will be automatically registered when they fill out any application for identification at the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they check an opt-out box. The result will be a streamlined experience for D.C. residents and improved accuracy of information on the voter roll as people update their addresses or names with the DMV. In most cases, the Board of Elections is the last place you update your personal information after a move or marriage. But when it comes to ensuring valid and verified voters, an automatic connection to the DMV has been a great way in other jurisdictions to help voters and improve voter registration data.
Connecticut implemented automatic voter registration this year, and it has been highly successful. The state reported almost 15,000 new voters registered in the first month of automatic voter registration through its DMV — more than the total number of voters registered at the department in 2013, 2014 and 2015 combined. In Oregon, which last year became the first state to adopt automatic voter registration, more than 200,000 new voters have become registered through their DMV — an increase of 10 percent.
But the benefits of automatic voter registration aren’t limited to helping people become voters. According to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multistate nonprofit working to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and increase access to voter registration, 1 in 8 voter registrations nationwide contains a serious error. Automatic voter registration would add a critically important tool to improve data accuracy by cross-checking address and name change requests made to the DMV with election officials. In Connecticut, the DMV submitted almost as many change-of-address updates to election officials for registered voters as it did new voter registrations.
Between automatic voter registration, online voter registration and the District’s membership in ERIC, the District could soon have some of the most accurate voter rolls in the nation.
Cleaner voter rolls could also save the District time and money. Accurate voter data means less returned mail, fewer special ballots on Election Day and shorter lines at polling places.
Automatic voter registration will move more residents off the sidelines of our civic life at precisely the same time that some states are moving to restrict voting. These attacks on voting rights take many forms: strict voter-identification requirements, cutbacks in early voting and limited access to absentee and provisional ballots.
At a time when many jurisdictions seem more interested in finding ways to block people from voting, I am proud that the District is moving in the opposite direction to automatically enfranchise residents, as we have a special connection to the fight for voting rights and representation.
The writer is the District’s Ward 6 council member.