Congratulations to Gov. Robert Bentley and Secretary of State John Merrill on their work to fully enact the “motor voter” law. It’s refreshing to see a news article about voting in Alabama that isn’t negative. And while it did take more than 20 years and the threat of a costly lawsuit, Alabama is finally moving toward compliance with the federal voting law.
If you are unfamiliar with the law – the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 that is more commonly referred to as the “motor voter” law – it is a federal law that among other things requires state governments to offer voter registration opportunities to any eligible person who applies for or renews their driver’s license or public assistance.
In many parts of our state, people have not been able to register to vote in the same place where they applied for or renewed their driver’s license, and that change of address submissions for driver licenses did not serve as notification of a change of address for voter registration. This led the U.S. Department of Justice to threaten to sue the state if we did not comply.
Thankfully, Gov. Bentley and Sec. Merrill acted quickly to cooperate with the Justice Department and reach an agreement that will resolve these issues and avoid an expensive lawsuit.
And while I am thankful to see these changes, the truth is that there is a lot more we can do to address voting issues in this state without sacrificing the integrity of the vote.
We can begin by building on the motor voter act. It’s good that people applying for or renewing their driver’s license will now be asked if they’d like to register to vote. But why not just automatically register them? If they are renewing their license, then it should automatically update their voter registration as well. And for those 16 and 17-year olds who are getting their license for the first time, they can still be put into the system and registered but not allowed to actually vote until they are 18 years old.
Automatic voter registration also removes the chance of voter fraud through fraudulent voter registration and voter fraud as a result of inaccurate and incomplete voter rolls.
Automatic registration would also eliminate the problems our voting registrars have with the large numbers of registration applications that come in during the final weeks before an election. Each election year, the registrars offices are flooded with registration forms, which often overwhelm registrars who are trying to finalize the list of registered voters and get voting cards in the mail to these voters telling them where they need to go to vote. If we had automatic registration, those problems would cease to exist.
There have also been instances where registrars have either intentionally or accidentally left a voter off the rolls or failed to register someone to vote. Automatic voter registration would also solve this problem and allow plenty of time for errors to be caught and corrected.
Automatic registration would also save the state money by eliminating all that paperwork that goes with registering to vote (or changing your voting address) by having it all done with the same paperwork needed to apply for or renew your driver’s license.
Automatic registration also addresses another issue: same-day voter registration. A study conducted in 2013 found that Election Day registration (meaning a person who isn’t registered to vote can show up at the polls on Election Day, register and then cast their ballot) is proven to boost the probability of voting by three to four percentage points. Now, Election Day registration would cause serious problems for our registrars, not to mention the potential for fraud. But if this type of voter were already registered and in the system, then there wouldn’t be a problem. That person could simply show up and cast their ballot legally.
I’m very encouraged to see the progress that is being made, now that the state is finally complying with the motor voter act. Gov. Bentley and Sec. Merrill deserve credit for acting quickly to bring us into compliance. But there is more work to be done.
We need to have a serious conversation about automatic voter registration, which can save the state money, cut down on bureaucracy and red tape and protect every American citizen’s God-given right to cast their vote and let their voice be heard!
Progress has been made. But there is still work to be done.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.