MONTPELIER, Vt. — Automatic voter registration has passed the six-month mark in Vermont, and the secretary of state says the new program has produced “dramatic increases” in voter rolls.
Last week, Secretary of State Jim Condos announced the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) program’s first six months’ worth of new enrollment numbers. The new system allows those who apply for an ID at the Department of Motor Vehicles to be automatically registered to vote.
“Automatic Voter Registration not only increases access to the ballot box by registering eligible voters to vote, it improves the quality of our voter rolls,” Condos said in a statement. “In just six months we’ve seen dramatic increases and have added or updated thousands of voters to our voter rolls.”
Between Jan. 1 and June 30, the state saw 12,344 new voter registrations updated or processed by town clerks, according to the DMV. That compares to just 7,626 during the same period of 2016.
State lawmakers voted to approve automatic voter registration in 2016, making Vermont the fourth state in the nation to implement such a program. Nine states plus Washington, D.C., have approved automatic voter registration, and 32 states have bills pending.
“Voting is a sacred right, and is fundamental to our democracy,” Condos said. “With all of the talk going on nationally about election reform, AVR is one simple, common-sense way for states to increase election integrity and encourage civic participation in our democratic process. This is real reform, and I encourage other state and national leaders to look to Vermont’s success with AVR as an example.”
While automatic voter registration is designed to make voting easer, Condos says it doesn’t make illegal voting easier. He explained to True North how the system prevents voter fraud:
We only receive (from DMV) a record for an applicant at DMV if that application meets two criteria:
1. The applicant checked “Yes” to the citizenship question, and
2. That the applicant did not opt-out of registering to vote.
He added that if either of these conditions are not met, then they will not receive the record.
“For example, if someone does not opt-out, such that we would typically receive the record, but they have not checked the citizenship box, then we do not receive that record. Both conditions must be met.
“There is a systemic process in place and set-up to ensure that non-citizens are not registered. … We do not want to register to vote any non-citizens/undocumented individuals.”
The DMV does, however, offer driver’s privilege cards to illegal immigrants. The IDs authorize driving but don’t carry all the same uses as other Vermont driving credentials.
Not everyone is convinced that automatic voter registration is a good idea. Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the AVR system lacks any process for verifying a voter’s eligibility to vote.
“Vermonters should be concerned about the lack of effort to verify the eligibility of people voting,” she said.
Vaughn said there’s not much to stop non-citizens from claiming to be a citizen and casting a vote, due to “lax standards.”
“This is one of the downsides to allowing illegal aliens to get licenses,” she said. “If the state is going to adopt that controversial policy, at the very least it should also be taking steps to prevent non-citizens from getting on the voter rolls and from casting ballots, and not pushing this problem on to the town clerks.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed using automatic voter registration for the whole country. Former President Barack Obama also thinks the program should be national.
“That will protect the fundamental right of everybody,” Obama said in February. “Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military — it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed an automatic registration bill in 2015, blasting the registration scheme as something that would “endanger the State’s longstanding and proven election system.”
“I reject this government-knows-best, backwards approach that would inconvenience citizens and waste government resources for no justifiable reason. I do not believe the State fails to provide eligible voters with sufficient opportunities to register to vote. Quite the contrary, current voter registration opportunities are manifold,” Christie wrote in his veto announcement.
New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told True North that while the Granite State doesn’t have automatic voter registration, “Each state does it differently and it might work well in Vermont.”
He said when someone registers to vote in New Hampshire, the person signs an affidavit and checks a box asserting citizenship. Falsifying the document has legal consequences.
The Vermont Legislature passed automatic voter registration 137-0.