Commentary

What NC leaders would do if they were serious about voting

Voting rightsAs this editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer explains, California has hit on a startlingly simple tactic that will both boost voting rates and shine a bright light on the actual reason conservative political leaders keep instituting new roadblocks to voting: automatic voter registration for all driver’s license holders.

The “New Motor Voter Act” will automatically register all eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license. It’s the second such law in the country; Oregon goes even further by automatically registering all eligible adult citizens in the Department of Motor Vehicle’s database.

Federal law already allows for voters to choose to be registered to vote at DMVs. But as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said: “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech and due process.”

California officials say that 7 million additional voters will be registered because of the law. Certainly, eligibility doesn’t guarantee participation, as low voter turnout percentages across the country show. But the law does remove one barrier to voting.

The editorial goes on to say this about the politics of the change:

“All of which leads us to a somewhat delicious feature of automatic voter registration: It lays bare the reason Republicans really don’t want more people casting ballots – because those voters might vote against them.

It shouldn’t be surprising that California Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the motor voter bill, or that when the New Jersey legislature passed a similar bill this year, Republican Gov. Chris Christie lamely frowned on it. “Is it really too much to ask someone to fill out a form?” he said.

Automatic registration bills were introduced in 15 other states this year, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives. In North Carolina, Sen. Jeff Jackson told the editorial board this week that he’s putting together an automatic registration bill for the upcoming short session. It will likely get a chilly reception from Republicans.

It shouldn’t. On Monday, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory proudly announced that online driver’s license renewal will now be available statewide by the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. The improvement was part of an initiative focusing on “improving customer service at the DMV,” the governor’s office said in a news release.

If only the state were just as customer-friendly to voters.”

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