So much news in the US recently has been upsetting, and rarely uplifting; but the champions of voting rights have reasons to be both aghast at recent headlines and encouraged by them. On the one hand, the Trump-Pence “election integrity” commission’s every move continues to underscore concerns that it is driving at 90mph towards national voter suppression. Then there is the sudden decision by Donald Trump and attorney general Jeff Session’s Department of Justice to support purging voter rolls in Ohio. It’s enough to make voters feel like they have targets on their backs. On the other hand, Rhode Island recently became the ninth state to enact AVR – automatic voter registration – and on 28 August Illinois became the 10th when its Republican governor signed the bill into law. While the federal government perpetuates myths and conspiracies in an effort to justify taking the vote away from citizens, more and more states are taking local action to strengthen and protect this most fundamental democratic right.
Roughly 41% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. Such low voter participation is a significant dent in the credibility and legitimacy of our elections. Our government gains its legitimacy by being representative of the people, but if the reality is that it only represents a little more than half of eligible voters, that premise is shaky.
We cannot make people vote, but we can certainly make it easier for them to do so. And it can be achieved without pillaging state voting records to build a national voter database that is susceptible to abuse and hacking.
AVR involves two steps. The first is that eligible voters are registered to vote, or have their voting information updated, any time they interact with state agencies, or with federal agencies under national AVR. Second, those agencies electronically relay the information to appropriate state electoral officials. The results are more registered voters and more up-to-date voter rolls.