Maryland Legislature Considers Landmark Automatic Voter Registration Legislation
- Jennifer Bevan Dangel
Maryland Would Lead on Voting Reform
Annapolis, MD – Today, the Maryland State Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee will hear testimony on automatic voter registration, a reform that would register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the Motor Vehicle Administration and other state agencies. With almost half a million eligible but unregistered citizens, Maryland could dramatically boost its registration rate while reducing costs and making registration more convenient for government officials and voters alike.
If Maryland enacts automatic registration, it will become the first state to extend the reform beyond offices that issue driver’s licenses. The legislation, introduced by Senator Roger Manno (SB 350) and Delegate Eric Luedtke (HB 1007), would put the responsibility on the government to sign up eligible individuals unless they decline to register.
Maryland would be at the forefront of a growing trend: overall, legislators in 25 states as well as the District of Columbia have similar legislation pending. Last year, Oregon and California became the first two states in the country to enact this groundbreaking reform. Oregon started implementing its new system in early January, and already state officials have reported that 4,300 new voters registered through the system in its first six days. This number is more than double the average number of voters the state would register in a month. Combined, Oregon and California’s laws could add up to 7 million new citizens to the rolls. Last week, President Barack Obama called on legislators to “mak[e] automatic voter registration the new norm across America.”
““Government should be in the business of making people’s busy lives a little easier. That’s what universal voter registration is all about – making voting easier by removing barriers as we have done for centuries to enfranchise all Americans regardless of race, gender, religion and class,” said Senator Manno, author of the Senate bill.
“The Freedom to Vote Act will make our voter registration system both more convenient and more secure,” said Delegate Luedtke, author of the House bill. “It breaks down artificial barriers to voting, and because of that strengthens our democracy.” The hearing on the House bill is slated for March 3 in the Ways and Means Committee.
“This system would replace the antiquated regimen of voters needing to remember to register by certain deadlines and re-register upon moving. It makes voter registration more efficient for voters and election administrators, and makes voter lists more accurate.” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland.
“Social-service agencies are the next frontier for automatic registration.” said Adam Gitlin, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This legislation would put Maryland at the vanguard of our democracy.”
“This legislation would provide an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Maryland citizens to exercise their right to vote,” said Nany Soreng, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland. “Our democracy is founded on citizen participation in government, which is why we support modernizing our voter registration system.”
“With so many Latinos turning voting age in Maryland, automatic voter registration would be a major tool to ensure that this growth in our community is reflected at the voting booth,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA.
“Currently, registering to vote requires unnecessary hurdles that keep tens of thousands of eligible black voters and communities of color from having a voice in our democracy,” said Perry Hopkins with Maryland Communities United. “A universal voter registration system that eliminates the barriers to registration by automatically registering eligible voters is a game changer for expanding access to democratic participation in communities of color.”
“Far too many young people are not participating in our democracy because of our outdated voter registration system,” said Cassidy Chassagne, a University of Maryland student and volunteer with Maryland PIRG Student Chapters. “This new system can improve youth voter participation and our democracy as a whole.”
The legislation is available online at http://mgaleg.maryland.gov. While the bills are not technically cross-filed, the sponsors are working on amendments to reconcile the versions.