Automatic Voter Registration still sweeping the nation — Rhode Island may be next

The Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) revolution continues to sweep the nation.

On Wednesday, a day after the governor of Illinois announced he’d sign a new AVR bill, Rhode Island took a big step toward becoming the next state to take the registration burden off voters, unanimously passing an AVR bill through the House.

Republicans introduced an amendment to limit the bill to the motor vehicles department and exclude public assistance agencies, suggesting they might end up registering non-citizens. It failed on a party-line vote.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where Democrats have a 32-5 majority. Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, supports the measure.

A spokeswoman for Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, said Tuesday he would sign a bill establishing AVR that passed unanimously in both houses. Last year, Rauner vetoed an AVR bill, citing concerns about fraud.

Rhode Island and Illinois would become the ninth and tenth states, in addition to the District of Columbia, to adopt automatic voter registration since Oregon began the trend in 2015. Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and D.C. have done so by passing legislation. Colorado, Georgia, and Connecticut have adopted it through administrative action. And Alaska passed it via a ballot initiative. About 25 other states have introduced legislation to establish AVR.

AVR works by automatically registering eligible voters whenever they come in contact with the motor vehicles department or in some cases other government agencies, unless they choose to opt out. As such, it takes the burden of registering to vote away from most voters and places it on government, where it logically belongs.

Voting rights advocates say AVR has the potential to dramatically expand access to the voter rolls, especially for marginalized groups. It already has led to a surge in registered in Oregon, where it went into effect at the start of 2016.


Photo: Rhode Island State House (Creative Commons)

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