It should not be a hassle to vote, but in so many states, it is. Why, for example, should people have to register to vote when state agencies - the DMV, notably - have all the information they need to add people to the voter rolls? Several states have recently tried to remove this unnecessary bureaucratic barrier to the ballot box by automatically registering eligible people when they get driver's licenses or seek other government services - or, as the case may be, when preexisting government records indicate they have turned 18.
Now, an early picture of how these programs have worked is emerging. The results are encouraging, but they also underscore that automatic registration alone is not enough.
FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich this month released an analysis in which he gathered voting data from the eight jurisdictions that had automatic registration in place for last year's midterm election: Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. He found that 2.2 million people were automatically registered. Oregon went from 73% of eligible voters registered in 2014 to 90% in 2018. Perhaps 6 million people had their registrations automatically updated with new addresses or other information.
That's good news. The picture is murkier on whether these policies induced new registrants to vote. In some states, those who were automatically registered voted at substantially lower rates than the population at large. But others, including the District of Columbia and Rhode Island, saw equal or higher rates of participation among automatic registrants.
Observers are only beginning to parse these findings. But one intuitive explanation is that the District of Columbia and Rhode Island notified voters of their registration status several times shortly before the 2018 election - a sensible idea for any state, no matter what sort of registration system it has. Voluntary, rather than automatic, registration has been the norm for so long that it may take some time for people to adjust to the idea that, though they have not lifted a finger to register, they can still show up to the polls. And just because some automatic registrants did not show up in 2018 does not prove that they are uninterested in ever voting. Come the next presidential election, the numbers might grow.
For so much of the past decade, many state legislatures have seemed eager to make voting harder, not easier. The states that have tried to enable civic participation with automatic registration can claim some early success. That suggests that automatic registration is a useful reform, but not sufficient to boost civic participation as much as needed.
- The Washington Post
New York must wait
On June 19, the New York state Senate passed S6457, an Automatic Voter Registration bill, with bipartisan support. But due to a last minute drafting error, the bill stalled in the Assembly. Legislators say passing AVR is a top priority for the 2020 legislative session.