Over the past two years, nine states and the District of Columbia have quietly implemented a significant overhaul of the voter registration process, aiming to reduce bureaucracy and increase the number of people signed up to vote. Automatic voter registration, or AVR for short, essentially turns the current opt-in system of voter registration to an opt-out system. “When eligible citizens interact with certain government offices, they are added to the voter rolls unless they say no,” according to an article by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which is working to advance the idea. Two years ago, no state had AVR. Today, 1 in 4 Americans live in a state that has approved automatic voter registration. “AVR is coming,” says Natalie Tennant, a former Democratic secretary of state from West Virginia who is now the Brennan Center’s manager of state advocacy on voting rights and elections.
The idea is sometimes assumed to be good for Democrats, in the same way that many reforms to broaden the electorate, such as early voting and same-day voter registration, are presumed to be.
Indeed, AVR first passed in 2015 in the blue state of Oregon. Another solidly blue state, Vermont, passed it in 2016, though with strong bipartisan support in the legislature. Since then, California and Rhode Island have passed it, and Connecticut and Colorado have approved it administratively. Nevada voters will weigh in on AVR in 2018.
But AVR has deep support from good-government groups, and its potential partisan impacts have been uncertain enough that Republican states have also been among those that have adopted it.