West Virginia doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Oregon or California. The Mountain State is nestled in Appalachia, while the Beaver and the Golden states are on the Pacific coast, and would take about 35 hours to reach if you drove nonstop from Charleston, W.Va. They have different industries, vastly different heritages and wildly different demographic makeups – California is one of the most diverse states in the country, while West Virginia is one of the least. They also diverge politically: President Obama only took 35 percent of the vote in West Virginia during his successful 2012 re-election bid, while comfortably winning California and Oregon by 60 percent and 54 percent, respectively. West Virginia will almost certainly remain red in this year’s presidential contest, while it would take a seismic shift of epic proportions for either Oregon or California to take on a reddish hue.
And yet, last week, West Virginia found some common ground with Oregon and California – it followed in the footsteps of those two states by approving a measure that would automatically register its citizens to vote once they interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Considering West Virginia doesn’t have a reputation for being a progressive bastion, it’s surprising it has become only the third state in the country to take this step, ahead of more likely suspects like Vermont, Massachusetts or Rhode Island. But automatic registration was tacked onto a voter ID bill by Democrats in the legislature and, in stark opposition to their counterparts elsewhere, Republicans went along with it. In fact, Bill Cole, a Republican and the president of West Virginia’s Senate, remarked “If managed properly, automatic registration is a great benefit to our citizens and will encourage more people to go to the polls.”