Automatic voter registration now state law
Rhode Island is making national news by becoming the ninth state to pass an Automatic Voter Registration bill, which automatically registers eligible citizens to vote when interacting with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea has long championed AVR, saying it will clean up voter rolls and boost registration among previously underrepresented groups.
“I made a point of saying that we would have elections that are fair, fast and accurate,” Gorbea said at a press conference Tuesday at the State House. She continued, “Of course, having a clean voter list is critical to preserving the integrity of elections.”
“I love it when we can be in the top ten,” Governor Gina Raimondo said, adding, “I don’t have to remind everyone how important it is to vote. If you stay home, bad things can happen. Elections have consequences.”
Raimondo signed the legislation at the conference.
“While others talk about it, Rhode Island is getting it done,” Gorbea bragged.
She said when U.S. Representative David Cicilline introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act, on a national level in June 2015, he announced it from her office. National legislation hasn’t been enacted, yet states are moving ahead.
Nothing is more essential than the right to vote, Cicilline said. The best way to respond to the efforts of people who really hijack our democracy is to ensure that many more people participate, and thats what voter registration does.
Citing the numbers, Gorbea said Oregon, the first state to enact AVR, had 226,000 voters registered through AVR in the first full year, 98,000 cast their ballots in the November election.
AVR enables voters to automatically update their voter information or register when working with the DMV. Any eligible citizen that provides identifying information to the DMV will automatically be registered to vote. People can opt out. Also, the system can update a voter’s address, avoiding the problem of duplicates and voters being in the wrong polling location.
Former West Virginia Secretary of State and mentor to Gorbea Natalie Tennant now works as manager of state advocacy at the Brennan Center for Justice, which she said conducted research and proposed AVR because it saves money, increases accuracy and participation and will add an additional 50 million voters to rolls permanently across the country. Additional voters will come from marginalized groups, adding diversity to the voting roles that was not as present before.
“We found that the registrations, those who registered, were younger. We’re more likely to live in suburban rather than urban areas. Some people may feel that as a surprise. More likely to live in low- or middle-income areas, more likely in lower education area, and more likely to live in racially diverse areas,” she said.
Gorbea worked with the General Assembly and the governor to enact online voter registry last year, where voters can update registration forms online. Together it is a joint effort to remove clutter in voting rolls and increase voter registration.
The bill was sponsored by Representative David Coughlin (D-Pawtucket) and Senator Gayle Goldin (D-Providence).