As automatic voter registration has gathered momentum — Illinois this week became the tenth state to adopt the system, all since 2015 — those opposed to expanding voting access have struggled to come up with arguments against it.
Some have tried the usual objection to making voting easier — that it could allow for fraud or illegal voting. But there’s no evidence of that.
Others, including at least two members of the White House voting commission, have said it doesn’t lead to more voting, because voters who aren’t motivated enough to take the initiative themselves aren’t likely to turn out. But that claim is hard to support these days: Oregon, which was the only state where AVR was in effect last year, saw a bigger jump in turnout than any other state.
Now an Indiana state lawmaker has offered an even worse reason to oppose AVR.
Rep. Kathy Richardson, a Republican, said at a panel on voting reform that automatically registering voters “would only serve to reduce the turnout percentage.”
In other words, AVR will lead to more registered voters, and they might vote at a lower rate than the existing pool of registered voters, so the turnout rate of registered voters will decline.
This is likely true as far as it goes. Of the 186,050 Oregonians who were newly registered through AVR, “only” 67,903, or 36 percent, voted, according to a study by Demos. That’s a rate far lower than the voting rate of those already on the rolls.
But it’s also irrelevant, of course, because those 67,903 voters likely wouldn’t have voted at all were not for AVR. The turnout number that matters — and that’s commonly used when we worry about how to increase turnout — is the share of eligible voters, not registered voters, who vote. And there’s little question that AVR increases that share.
The only reason we might care about a decline in turnout among registered voters is if it complicated the work of election administrators by making them plan for a larger number of voters than ultimately show up. But there’s no evidence we’re aware of that this has been an issue in Oregon or in any of the other states that have begun to implement AVR.
Rather, it looks like another manufactured argument to oppose a system that will make voting easier.