Congressional Democrats Introduce Transformative Automatic Voter Registration Bill

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.