In March 2015, Oregon was the first to pass a breakthrough law to automatically register eligible citizens who have driver's licenses (except those who decline),and has already seen big registration increases. California's legislature passed a bill modeled on Oregon's law in September 2015, which was signed by the Governor in October. California estimates that the state has 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters.
Vermont and West Virginia's legislatures both passed automatic voter registration with strong bipartisan support and signed them into law in April 2016. There have been many strong and bipartisan efforts across a majority of states to modernize voter registration. Connecticut approved automatic voter registration administratively in May.
In November 2016, Alaska became the latest state to approve automatic registration. Alaskans passed a ballot measure to institute automatic voter registration through the state's Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), a sum paid by the state to all eligible residents. Once the new system is implemented, eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated when they complete their annual PFD application, unless they decline.
Illinois and New Jersey nearly joined these states. In Illinois, the General Assembly passed a bill -- with many Democratic and Republican votes -- but it was vetoed by Governor Rauner. In the Garden State, Governor Christie vetoed the Democracy Act and an additional measure that passed the legislature, again with bipartisan support. Had Illinois and New Jersey joined Alaska, California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia in implementing automatic registration, 22 percent of the nation's population would live in states with automatic registration."
Automatic registration: eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are automatically registered to vote unless they actively decline. This means that voter information is electronically sent from the government agency (most often the DMV) directly to election officials or, in California, to the Secretary of State. It is a seamless process that is subject to fewer errors. It is a more efficient system which increases the voter rolls, cleans up the rolls, saves money, makes voting easier, and reduces voter fraud.
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"We were very, very concerned with the governor's statement that everyone had enough time to register when he was the very one who was protecting lives and asking people to leave. We felt since it came out of his mouth to tell people to leave their homes and leave their businesses and the different state offices where people could register were shut. It came from him. It should have come from him to allow people to register," Scoon says.
America's outdated voter registration needs improvement, but as technology has advanced, a growing number of states are using 21st century methods.
A total of 38 states now use electronic and/or online voter registration, nearly double the total from our last study five years ago, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. These systems boost registration rates, increase voter roll accuracy, and save money, the study found.
Electronic and online registration are two of the most popular modern methods of signing up voters, according to the report, which is based on interviews with more than 70 election officials nationwide.
Electronic registration is when a government agency -- in most cases, a department of motor vehicles office -- collects information and sends it digitally to election officials, instead of relying on paper forms. Online registration allows voters to submit their application over the Internet.
"No one should lose their vote because of registration problems due to outdated technology," reads Voter Registration in a Digital Age: 2015 Edition. "Electronic and online registration make voting more free, fair, and accessible to all eligible citizens. Other states should embrace these systems without delay."
That law, also known as "motor voter," pioneered a new way of registering to vote in America. It required most states to provide citizens with an opportunity to register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver's license.
Now, states are taking this model one step further. Instead of giving someone the choice to register at the motor vehicle agency, some states automatically register that person to vote, unless the person decides to opt-out of voter registration.
As of December 8, 2016, six states and the District of Columbia have authorized automatic voter registration.