Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday vetoed a bill to establish automatic voter registration (AVR) in the state—a reform that could have dramatically expanded access to voting.
The bill would have automatically registered eligible Nevadans to vote whenever they came into contact with the DMV, unless they affirmatively chose not to register. Six other states, including California, have adopted AVR in recent years, during which time it has emerged as perhaps the most promising idea for making voting easier. Voting rights advocates say that by removing the need to take the initiative to register, AVR wipes out a key barrier to voting, especially for members of marginalized communities. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders endorsed it during the presidential campaign.
Sandoval, a Republican, said the bill violates “the right of eligible voters to decide for themselves whether they desire to apply to register to vote—forfeiting this decision to state government.” He also worried that it could lead ineligible voters to unintentionally register.
Both objections are groundless. Under AVR, anyone can choose to opt out, so people still enjoy the right to choose whether to register. The only difference is that the default is switched from ‘not registered’ to ‘registered’. And Oregon, which has had AVR in effect for over a year, has reported no significant problems with ineligible voters being registered.
Sandoval, widely seen as a relative GOP moderate, becomes the third governor to veto an AVR bill, joining Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bruce Rauner of Illinois. Christie and Rauner are also Republicans. All five states that have approved AVR through the legislative process—California, Oregon, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Vermont—are fully controlled by Democrats, with the exception of West Virginia, which has a Republican legislature. Alaska voters approved AVR via a ballot initiative last fall.
Because the Nevada bill emerged as a citizen initiative, Sandoval’s veto means it will go on the 2018 ballot, where voters can approve it directly. So the fight isn’t over. But the governor’s opposition is just the latest evidence of a shameful reality that isn’t acknowledged enough: In America, making voting easier remains controversial.