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Vermont Governor Signs Bipartisan Automatic Voter Registration Bill

The state becomes the fourth in the nation to enact automatic registration of eligible citizens, and the second to do so with strong bipartisan support.

April 28, 2016

Today, Vermont Gov. Peter Shum­lin (D) signed into law a bill to auto­mat­ic­ally and securely register eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license from the DMV, unless they opt out of regis­tra­tion.

Vermont’s law comes as auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion is taking off across the coun­try. The state is the fourth in the nation to enact this reform, and the second (after West Virginia) to pass it with strong bipar­tisan support.

Nation­ally, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have considered meas­ures this year to auto­mat­ic­ally register citizens. Oregon and Cali­for­nia passed auto­matic regis­tra­tion in 2015, and since Oregon put its new system in place in Janu­ary, regis­tra­tion rates have already quad­rupled.

Vermont offi­cials are hope­ful its law will have a similar impact. Within the first four years of imple­ment­a­tion, they predict, the meas­ure could add between 30,000 and 50,000 new voters. In 2012, the state’s regis­tra­tion rate ranked 30th in the coun­try.

“Vermont’s broad support and adop­tion of auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion should be a signal to the rest of the coun­try,” said Adam Gitlin, coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “This is a common-sense reform that will boost the secur­ity of our elec­tions and could increase voter parti­cip­a­tion. We commend the General Assembly, Secret­ary Condos, and Governor Shum­lin for their lead­er­ship.”

“In Vermont at least, voting is an idea that lead­ers of all polit­ical stripes can get behind,” said Paul Burns, exec­ut­ive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “The simple truth is, this law will mean more people voting, and that’s healthy for our demo­cracy.”

“At a time when several other states are busy setting up road­b­locks to voter regis­tra­tion and parti­cip­a­tion, we are proud to be part of the effort to take an import­ant step forward for demo­cracy,” said Sheila Reed, board member of Rights & Demo­cracy from Ryeg­ate, VT.

“What struck me most about this process was that the debate turned entirely on ensur­ing that every part of this bill increased access broadly and equit­ably for all Vermonters,” said Lind­say DesLaur­i­ers, director of the Main Street Alli­ance of Vermont. “While there is a push to limit voter access in other parts of this coun­try, the members of all parties in Vermont ques­tioned only the extent to which this legis­la­tion could be more inclus­ive and create more oppor­tun­it­ies for people to vote.”

Read more about Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion.

Read more about this year’s voting trends in our Voting Laws Roundup 2016, and see all of the Bren­nan Center’s Elec­tion 2016 resources.