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Expert Brief

Bipartisan Support for Voter Registration Modernization

Voter registration modernization, which increases the accuracy of our voter rolls and reduces taxpayer expense, has received acclaim across the political spectrum.

Published: March 10, 2017

The need to update our voter registration system has never been more pressing. We rely on a 19th Century approach for a 21st Century political process. Registration records are rife with errors, election officials are overwhelmed, and the integrity of our electoral process is compromised when not every eligible voter is given the opportunity to participate.

It should therefore come as no surprise that voter registration modernization, which increases the accuracy and security of our voter rolls and reduces taxpayer expense, has received acclaim across the political spectrum.

  • In April 2016, West Virginia’s Republican-led legislature passed, and Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed, a bill to enact automatic voter registration.
  • During the same month, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont signed an automatic registration bill that received near-unanimous support in the legislature.
  • In 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administrationchaired by the chief attorneys from the 2012 Obama and Romney presidential campaigns, recommended that jurisdictions adopt online registration and give citizens the chance to be electronically registered to vote at the same time as they do business with a government agency.
  • That same year, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, co-chaired by five former members of Congress, including the former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) identified online and electronic registration as having the potential to improve voter-registration record accuracy dramatically.
  • In 2009, the Committee to Modernize Voter Registration, chaired by the respective general counsels to the 2004 Kerry campaign and the 2000 and 2008 McCain presidential campaigns, highlighted the need for electronic registration.
  • In Utah, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman created, and his successor, Gov. Gary Herbert, endorsed, a bipartisan Commission on Strengthening Democracy that recommended establishing online registration and eliminating registration deadlines to allow for registration on Election Day.

This support is not merely the product of bipartisan compromise—Republican elected officials and thought leaders have advanced these reforms and touted their strengths.

  • Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) both endorsed Ballot Measure 1, an automatic voter registration initiative that Alaska voters approved in November 2016. Sen. Murkowski said, “Ballot Measure 1 supports the worthwhile goal of encouraging participation in our political system. At the same time that it makes registering more convenient, it also improves the registration system and reduces opportunities for voter fraud.” Sen. Sullivan added, “Senator Murkowski and I are working every day to expand access to services and reduce costs for Alaskans, especially rural Alaskans, and this idea does exactly that for voter registration.”
  • Republican Secretaries of State, who often bear chief responsibility for implementing these reforms, have also backed them. Ken Blackwell, the Republican former Secretary of State of Ohio, has advocated electronic and online registration, and endorsed the Committee to Modernize Voter Registration’s findings. And in September 2015, Nebraska unveiled its online registration system, which counted among its supporters not only the Republican Governor who signed it into law, but also the current Secretary of State, John Gale, a former chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party. Republican Kim Wyman, Washington’s Secretary of State, has argued that automatic registration would make it easier for citizens to vote while giving officials a better picture of their state’s electorate. Republican-controlled legislatures in both reliably red states like Utah and Oklahoma, and swing states like Florida and Virginia, among others, have passed laws that GOP governors signed to modernize registration.
  • The Republican National Lawyers Association, co-chaired by Hon. Edwin Meese, U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan, and Robert Horn, who organized volunteer lawyers nationally in support of President George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000, supports electronic registration and online voter registration.

Support for modernization efforts, especially automatic registration, is even greater among Democrats.

  • In July 2016, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pennsylvania) introduced identical legislation that would institute automatic voter registration nationally. Sen. Leahy said the bill would “provide for a registration process that is more efficient and accurate.” He additionally argued “there is no reason why every eligible citizen cannot have the option of automatic registration when they visit the DMV, sign up for healthcare, or sign up for classes in college.”
  • In May 2015, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi—along with 178 other Democrats in the House—co-sponsored Rep. John Lewis’ bill to modernize voter registration through reforms including online registration and near-automatic registration. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have introduced legislation advancing other modernizing reforms.
  • Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) both support automatic registration, on which Sen. Sanders has introduced a bill authorizing the reform.
  • In the states, Oregon Democrats passed automatic registration in March 2015. Before signing California’s automatic registration bill into law, Gov. Jerry Brown heard support from California’s Democratic Congressional Delegation among a wide array of influential thinkers, labor groups, environmental organizations, and think tanks. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla heralded the new law, stating, “Citizens should not be required to opt in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different.”