Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.
Nati Harnik/AP

Automatic voter registration poised to reach another state

Updated

As recently three years ago, automatic voter registration did not exist in any of the nation’s states. As the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law noted yesterday, the policy will soon be the law in a fifth of the states.

Washington is set to become the latest state to automatically register citizens to vote at state agencies. The State House and Senate agreed on language and passed the legislation today. […]

Under the bill, Washingtonians who apply for or renew an enhanced driver’s license at the Department of Licensing will automatically be registered to vote unless they decline. The bill also requires public assistance agencies to move toward automatic voter registration, and for the state’s health benefit exchange to implement electronic voter registration.

According to the Brennan Center, the bill in the state of Washington is now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is expected to sign it into law.

The Evergreen State will then join Oregon, California, Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Georgia, West Virginia, Rhode Island, and Vermont as states that have adopted AVR.

Don’t be surprised if Nevada is next:  automatic voter registration will be on the statewide ballot, and most observers expect it to pass.

Also keep an eye on New Jersey, where the Democratic-led legislature already approved the policy once, though it was vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie (R). The Garden State’s new governor, Phil Murphy (D), is on record supporting AVR, so it’s probably only a matter of time.

Circling back to our previous coverage, I’ve long believed this is a policy that’s tough to argue against. When it comes to registering to vote in the United States, the burden has traditionally been on the individual: if you’re eligible to vote, it’s up to you to take the proactive steps needed to register.

Automatic voter registration, which already exists in many of the world’s democracies, flips that model. The idea is exactly what it sounds like: under the policy, states automatically register eligible voters, shifting the burden away from the individual. Those who want to withdraw from the system can do so voluntarily without penalty, but otherwise, Americans would simply be added to the voters rolls as a matter of course.

At the federal level, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has taken the lead on sponsoring a national AVR bill, and his proposal has 108 co-sponsors. At this point, however, literally all 108 are Democrats, and in a House led by a far-right Republican majority, the bill has no realistic chance of getting a vote, at least in this Congress.

That said, the scale of the Democratic support suggests the next time control of Capitol Hill changes hands, we may see some real movement on this.

Voting Reform, Voting Rights and Washington

Automatic voter registration poised to reach another state

Updated