Drivers could be automatically registered to vote when they apply for their license, according to a proposal under consideration by a voting rights task force in Montgomery County. Current federal law requires Motor Vehicle Administration employees to ask customers if they would like to register to vote or update their voter registration information during their driver’s license or photo identification card applications. Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro, D, is spearheading the task force. A resolution calling for measures to expand voting participation in the county and the state was unanimously approved by Montgomery’s nine-member council in September. The proposed members of the task force are at the bottom of this story. Switching to “opt-out” voter registration was the only item the council’s resolution explicitly charged the task force with considering that would require action by the Maryland Board of Elections or the General Assembly, according to Ken Silverman, senior legislative aide to Navarro. While local governments have limited authority in making election law, Montgomery has been known to be a catalyst in affecting state law.
“Montgomery County is one of the most influential counties in the state and has a sizeable delegation in the Assembly,” said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College. “So what the County Council does could impact the state.”
All of Montgomery County’s elected officials are Democrats, including its 32 state lawmakers. The Democratic Party also controls the governor’s office, the Senate and the House.
If passed, Maryland’s voter registration policy would change from an “opt-in” system – where people are asked if they would like to register – to an “opt-out” system, where they would be registered to vote unless they asked not to be.