Wisconsin May Be First State to Enact Automatic Voter Registration Law

Cross-posted to Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

A bill to automatically register voters when applying for a driver’s license was introduced to the Wisconsin Assembly yesterday. If passed, advocates in Wisconsin say the state would be the first to implement this streamlined procedure to make voter registration accurate and accessible under law.

The bill "calls for driver's license applicants to be automatically registered to vote by 2015," according to the Associated Press. The measure also directs the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, to extend automatic voter registration to those who apply for public assistance, fishing licenses, or unemployment may become automatically enfranchised. It was introduced to the Assembly yesterday and was referred to the Elections and Campaign Reform committee.

"Automatically registering people to vote when they get a driver's license would put the burden on the state, instead of the applicant, to ensure the process is completed. That differs from the federal motor voter law which makes voters responsible for registering when they obtain a driver's license," the AP reported. Wisconsin is exempt from the "motor voter" provision of the National Voter Registration Act because it permits Election Day Registration.

While passing the bill would make Wisconsin the first state to enact an automatic registration law, a few states have already implemented a range of automated voter registration procedures at state motor vehicle agencies in an effort to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. According to Steven Rosenfeld, author of the recent Project Vote report, Paperless Voter Registration: Innovations in Three States, automating voter registration at NVRA agencies is inexpensive, relatively easy to implement, and effective. For example, since developing the program in 2006, the number of South Dakota residents who register to vote or update their registration records at motor vehicles agencies has increased sevenfold (from 5 percent to more than 35 percent).

A bill similar to Wisconsin’s bill recently passed the legislature of another EDR state, Minnesota. It was vetoed by the governor last May.

Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald criticized the Wisconsin bill for not including a voter ID provision, the AP reports. (Voter ID has been battled in the state legislature in recent years, though the bills haven’t gained much traction.) However, the Wisconsin bill, which also includes other election administration reforms, is expected to pass just before the legislative session adjourns in May.

"Although a number of states are discussing making the change [to automatic registration], Wisconsin would be the first state to do it should the bill become law," said the state’s Government Accountability Board director said Kevin Kennedy. The bill sponsors, who wrote the bill in consultation with both the GAB and election clerks from around the state, said "the goal was to increase access to elections, make them run more smoothly and ensure that everyone's vote counts."

Tags: election reform, automatic voter registration, Wisconsin, legislation, Voting Rights (all tags)

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