The number of Vermonters registering to vote or updating their registrations surged after the state adopted a new system to automatically register people when they do business with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The number of people registering or updating their voter information rose 62 percent in the first six months of 2017 under the new program, compared with the same period a year earlier, before automatic registration, according to data released Thursday by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D). The increase was particularly striking, Condos said, because 2016 was an election year, while 2017 is not.
Vermont’s numbers provide fresh evidence that automatic registration can expand the eligibility to vote to more Americans.
Automatic voter registration “is one simple, common-sense way for states to increase election integrity and encourage civic participation in our democratic process,” Condos said in a statement.
Automatic voter registration is a relatively new reform, and there isn’t much data to indicate its effect on registration and turnout. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing automatic voter registration. Legislation is pending in 32 states that would allow automatic voter registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Vermont lawmakers passed automatic voter registration in 2016, making it one of the first states to adopt a reform widely supported by voting advocates. The process makes registiring to vote the default option when people get a driver’s license (they can opt-out) and automatically updates their contact information when they renew their license or update their information.
Automatic registration went into effect on Jan. 1. By June 30, the state had processed 12,344 voter registrations or updates based on DMV data. Over the first six months of 2016, without automatic voter registration, the state processed 7,626 voter registrations or updates.
The increase came even after Vermont had to temporarily pause its automatic registration system in January when it found ineligible voters were inadvertently getting registered.
Early data from Oregon, which in 2016 became the first state to implement automatic registration, shows an increase in registration and in voter turnout in elections. Oregon’s automatic process added 116,000 voters to the rolls who normally wouldn’t have registered on their own, according to a June analysis of automatic voter registration by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
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