States from Rhode Island to Louisiana took steps this week toward making voting easier. In Washington, a new bill that would automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18 is gaining traction among Democrats. And Ohio’s top voting official blocked a Democratic lawmaker on Twitter amid a spat over efforts to increase access to the ballot in the nation’s most pivotal swing state. It’s more evidence that Hillary Clinton’s major speech on voting last Thursday helped move along a conversation – already underway, to be sure – about how to to expand access to the ballot, especially by modernizing voter registration systems. It’s a conversation that threatens to put Republicans on the defensive after years of playing offense on the issue with a wave of restrictive voting laws.
In her speech in Houston last Thursday, Clinton laid out an expansive and positive agenda to boost voting participation. The centerpiece was automatic voter registration, in which any citizen who has contact with the DMV is automatically registered unless he or she chooses to opt out—putting the responsibility for registering on the government rather than the individual. But Clinton also talked up online voter registration, a nationwide standard of at least 20 days of early voting, a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and a loosening of felon disenfranchisement laws, among other ideas.
In March, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass automatic voter registration. Since then, 14 other states plus the District of Columbia—including deep red ones like Texas and Georgia—have introduced automatic registration bills, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice. And three states plus D.C. have this year passed online voter registration, bringing the total number of jurisdictions that offer it to 27.