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Congressional Democrats Introduce Transformative Automatic Voter Registration Bill

Today, Congress introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016, a transformative bill that would add up to 50 million new voters by automatically registering every eligible citizens to vote across the nation.

July 14, 2016

Today, senior congres­sional lawmakers intro­duced the Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016, a trans­form­at­ive bill that would add up to 50 million new voters by auto­mat­ic­ally regis­ter­ing eligible citizens to vote.

The initi­at­ive, led by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) with Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),  Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would also cut costs and improve the accur­acy and secur­ity of Amer­ica’s voter rolls.

Under the plan, when a citizen inter­acts with a govern­ment agency — for example, to get a driver’s license, apply for public services, apply for a license for a fire­arm, register for classes at a public univer­sity, or when becom­ing a natur­al­ized citizen — she is auto­mat­ic­ally signed up to vote, unless she declines.

In the past 16 months, five states, several with bipar­tisan support, have adop­ted auto­matic regis­tra­tion, through the depart­ment of motor vehicles. Oregon, the first state to fully imple­ment the plan, is now a national leader in voter regis­tra­tion rates, and has quad­rupled its rate of new regis­tra­tions at the DMV compared to previ­ous years.

The Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016 builds off this tremend­ous momentum by expand­ing auto­matic regis­tra­tion nation­wide, and to more govern­ment agen­cies.  

“This bill is a signi­fic­ant break­through in the fight for a stronger demo­cracy,” said Michael Wald­man, pres­id­ent of the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Auto­matic, univer­sal regis­tra­tion marks a paradigm shift in the way we run elec­tions. It would enfran­chise millions while boost­ing secur­ity and redu­cing error. In the long struggle for voting rights, this is an innov­at­ive and encour­aging next step. Rep. Brady and Senate lead­ers deserve enorm­ous credit for putting the fight for a stronger demo­cracy at the heart of policy, where it belongs.”

“Voting is the found­a­tion of demo­cracy. Sadly, we have seen efforts to block access to voting in states across the coun­try. One import­ant step to improv­ing access to the ballot box is making sure that voter regis­tra­tion is easy and access­ible for every citizen,” said Wade Hende­r­son, pres­id­ent and CEO of The Lead­er­ship Confer­ence on Civil and Human Rights. “By auto­mat­ic­ally and securely regis­ter­ing every eligible voter, we encour­age every Amer­ican to parti­cip­ate in our elec­tions — and that makes our demo­cracy stronger. We commend Rep. Brady and Senat­ors Leahy and Klobuchar for prior­it­iz­ing voting rights.”  

“Rep. Brady and Senate lead­ers’ compre­hens­ive bill on auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion speaks to core demo­cratic values — every­one parti­cip­ates and every­one’s voice should be heard and vote coun­ted,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, pres­id­ent of Common Cause. “Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion could very well be a game-changer that could move us closer to real­iz­ing those prin­ciples. When govern­ment agen­cies — that already collect indi­vidu­als’ voter eligib­il­ity inform­a­tion — register eligible citizens, they bring new voters into our polit­ical process. It’s these new voters who are still miss­ing from our elect­or­ate, and who are very much needed if we are to have a truly repres­ent­at­ive and robust demo­cracy.”

“The low rates of voter turnout that we see across the coun­try reflect the barri­ers and hurdles that too many Amer­ic­ans face when regis­ter­ing to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, Pres­id­ent & Exec­ut­ive Director, Lawyer’s Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organ­iz­a­tion that leads the national Elec­tion Protec­tion program. “Numer­ous states have taken steps to create discrim­in­at­ory and burden­some barri­ers to register to vote which greatly impact African Amer­ic­ans, poor people and other minor­ity voters. Strength­en­ing demo­cracy requires bold action to make it easier for Amer­ic­ans to parti­cip­ate in elec­tions. The Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016 is one import­ant step that Congress can take to bring eligible Amer­ic­ans on to our regis­tra­tion rolls while ignit­ing voter parti­cip­a­tion rates across our coun­try.”

“Demos applauds the intro­duc­tion of the Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016, legis­la­tion that is designed to increase voter parti­cip­a­tion by modern­iz­ing voter regis­tra­tion systems nation­wide,” said Brenda Wright, Demos’ Vice Pres­id­ent of Policy and Legal Strategies. “Voter friendly reforms such as auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, online voter regis­tra­tion, and port­able voter regis­tra­tion can stream­line and ease the voter regis­tra­tion process, ulti­mately adding millions of Amer­ic­ans to the voter rolls. Demos encour­ages broad and inclus­ive access to voting, and we are espe­cially support­ive of includ­ing agen­cies that serve a broad cross-section of citizens to take part in the voter regis­tra­tion process. Outdated, unne­ces­sary, and cumber­some processes currently inhibit too many Amer­ic­ans from exer­cising their most funda­mental of rights. Improve­ment of these processes is needed to achieve a robust, truly inclus­ive demo­cracy and to promote the role of govern­ment as a good faith part­ner in this effort. We applaud Repres­ent­at­ive Brady and Senate lead­ers in their effort to improve our demo­cracy.”

“The Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016 is a good first step toward bring­ing about univer­sal voter regis­tra­tion, some­thing many demo­cra­cies already engage in by regis­ter­ing new voters at birth,” said Chris Shelton, Pres­id­ent of the Commu­nic­a­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica. “Cast­ing a vote on Elec­tion Day is a right of citizen­ship. Unfor­tu­nately, too many voters today are frus­trated by an unwieldy and often inac­cess­ible regis­tra­tion process. Our goal must be to encour­age broad voter parti­cip­a­tion and modern­ize this process.”

“AAJC welcomes Repres­ent­at­ive Brady’s intro­duc­tion of the Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016 as a posit­ive first step in expand­ing access­ib­il­ity to all eligible persons in the voter regis­tra­tion process,” said Terry Ao Minnis, Director of Census & Voting Programs, Asian Amer­ic­ans Advan­cing Justice. “The bill modern­izes voter regis­tra­tion to be respons­ive to the chan­ging land­scape of our soci­ety, includ­ing taking advant­age of tech­no­logy.  Yet the bill also recog­nizes the key need for public educa­tion to ensure people are aware of the differ­ent ways to become registered and engaged.  We look forward to work­ing with Mr. Brady to ensure that the Bill meets the needs of all communit­ies to ensure all eligible persons are registered to vote.”

“The Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 2016 would create a voter regis­tra­tion fit for the twenty-first century,” said Marissa Liebling, Legis­lat­ive Director at Project Vote. "Unlike most developed demo­cra­cies, the United States is unique in placing the burden to register almost entirely on the indi­vidual. Under our current system, voter regis­tra­tion prob­lems, errors, or confu­sion can deprive eligible Amer­ic­ans of their right to cast a ballot that will count. By simpli­fy­ing proced­ures and expand­ing agency voter regis­tra­tion, this Act would create a more effi­cient system while increas­ing voter regis­tra­tion rates. 

The bill is a part of the House Demo­crats’ “By the People Pack­age,” rolled out today, which strives to fix Amer­ica’s broken demo­cracy by improv­ing voting access, reform­ing campaign finance laws, and fight­ing redis­trict­ing abuses.

Learn more about auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion. Read more from the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Agenda.

Find more Elec­tion 2016 resources.