By Russell Berman
The Atlantic, Nov. 6, 2016
One of the many supposed truisms about politics is that you’re never supposed to look past the next election.
Yet as this historic presidential race draws to a close, voting rights advocates are already ramping up efforts to expand the rolls in future elections through automatic voter registration.
In the District of Columbia, the city council unanimously approved legislation allowing eligible citizens to register when they sign up for a driver’s license. In Nevada, organizers for a group led by Obama campaign veterans are gathering signatures to put a similar law on the ballot in 2018; they must submit the petition by Election Day this year. Voters in Alaska will decide a ballot measure next week that would automatically register nonvoters when they sign up to receive dividend payments from the state’s oil revenue fund. And in Illinois, Democrats in the state legislature are hoping to hold a vote in the weeks after November 8 to override Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of legislation enshrining automatic voter registration.
The year-end push comes after a flurry of activity around the issue earlier this year that saw both progress and setbacks. In addition to D.C., Vermont, West Virginia, and Connecticut all followed the lead of Oregon and California in changing the voter registration process from a system in which people must “opt in” to one in which they have to affirmatively “opt out.” But in three Democratic-leaning states with Republican governors—Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland—bills enacting automatic voter registration fell short or were vetoed.
By and large, Republicans have opposed the efforts and argued that the push is a thinly-disguised bid to boost Democratic votes and that the onus should remain on citizens themselves, rather than the government, to register to vote. In vetoing the Illinois bill in August, Rauner cited concerns that the legislation did not adequately ensure that state officials would verify a person’s eligibility before adding them to the rolls.
“I strongly support efforts to encourage greater voter participation in our democracy and share the goals of this legislation,” Rauner said in a statement at the time. “Unfortunately, as currently drafted, the bill would inadvertently open the door to voter fraud and run afoul of federal election law.” In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill, expressing the same worries.