State Rep. Scott Seeks Automatic Voter Registration in Georgia
(APN) ATLANTA — State Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) has introduced legislation calling for automatic voter registration in the State of Georgia, following in the footsteps of the State of Oregon and the State of California, which adopted similar measures in 2015.
It is a hard sell in a state that has been ground zero for voter suppression–Georgia pioneered stricter Voter ID requirements in 2005 and 2006–but Rep. Scott has hope that her colleagues on both sides of the aisle will see value in HB 665.
The bill proposes to automatically register people to vote when they obtain, renew, or change their address on a driver’s license or state ID.
“If we could get all people registered to vote, regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, it would be a benefit to all. So I hope [Republican colleagues] would see the need and support this bill,” Scott told Atlanta Progressive News.
Scott introduced HB 665 near the end of last year’s legislative session. She is currently trying to get a committee hearing scheduled.
Scott was inspired by Oregon and California. The new laws create relatively small changes that will have a huge impact.
Every state’s department of motor vehicles is already equipped to register voters. But instead of filling out extra paperwork, in Oregon and California, an application for a driver’s license or state ID is also a voter registration application.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla estimated that the new law will increase the state’s voter rolls by six million people.
“There’s no other right that we enjoy as citizens where you have to opt in,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Atlanta Progressive News.
“I don’t have to opt in to exercise freedom of speech. I don’t have to opt in to exercise my right to not be discriminated against. But when it comes to voting, you have to go through the hoops,” he said.
Now California residents won’t have to opt in to register, but they can opt out.
The Secretary of State’s office is working with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to install tablets at local DMV offices. The tablets will function much much like the ones at grocery stores, where customers use a pen or buttons to answer a series of questions.
After DMV customers enter the necessary information to obtain their license, they will respond to questions to determine whether they are eligible to vote.
If they are, the next question will ask if they do not want to be registered to vote. If they do not sign, then the DMV forwards their information to the Secretary of State and, once their eligibility is confirmed, they are registered.
The new system comes online in July 2016 and is expected to have automatically registered nearly all eligible California voters by the 2018 elections.
Rep. Scott says that in Georgia there are over 600,000 people who are eligible, but not registered to vote.
“Hopefully this would help us to cut that number down. We need to cut that number in half,” she said.
Critics have alleged that automatic voter registration will increase the potential for voting fraud.
Padilla said that concerns about voting fraud have historically been used as a “red herring” to purge voter rolls, reduce early voting, and otherwise shrink the voting population.
“Some argue that automatic voter registration is more secure… There are fewer misspellings in the transfer of data than when people are hand-writing voter registration cards. It lends to more accurate voter rolls,” he explained.
The California legislature passed automatic voter registration with a partisan vote, so there isn’t exactly a precedent for bipartisan support, which would be necessary in Georgia.
“I think that’s unfortunate. Facilitating people’s participation in the electoral process should be a nonpartisan issue,” Padilla said.
He acknowledged that “low propensity” voters tend to be young people, communities of color, and working class families, not exactly the Republican base.
But members of both parties often say they care about boosting civic engagement. Automatic voter registration, Padilla and Scott said, is the most effective way to do that.
“We need the bill because we need all citizens in the State of Georgia to participate in the political process and we do that by voting. This is one of the easiest means for getting people out and registered to vote,” Scott said.
Asked whether Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp supports automatic voter registration, his Chief of Staff, David Dove, demurred.
“There are only two states that have automatic voter registration. The stance of our office is that we will wait on some of the other laboratories of democracy before we consider it. We’ll stay with the other 48 states for now,” Dove said.