West Virginia is third state to enact universal (automatic) voter registration


Voting-RightsIn news that does not get reported in Arizona — I’ll leave it to you to speculate as to the reasons why — the West Virginia legislature has passed a bipartisan bill to become the third state to enact universal (automatic) voter registration.

This is a significant development because (1) the bill was bipartisan, and (2) West Virginia does not have the reputation of being a progressive state. There is hope for Arizona yet.

The Observer-Reporter editorializes, West Virginia becomes a pioneer in voter registration:

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.”

In this instance, at least, West Virginia is a pioneer. It must also be noted while West Virginia’s lawmakers did enact a voter ID law, which have been put in place elsewhere to combat nonexistent “fraud,” but actually seem designed to keep constituencies that might vote for Democrats away from the polls, West Virginia’s ID law is comparatively relaxed – while other states demand state-issued photo IDs, West Virginia will allow such items as college IDs, utility bills or bank statements to serve as identification. The state will even allow another adult to verify someone’s identification if they have known the voter for six months or more.

It’s time for Pennsylvania, and the country’s 46 other states, to join West Virginia, California and Oregon in implementing automatic voter registration. It has the support of the president, and a report released last September by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University argued automatic voter registration would save money, increase accuracy, reduce the potential for fraud and, perhaps most important, add 50 million new voters to the rolls permanently.

“Citizens must take the responsibility to vote, but government should do its part by clearing bureaucratic obstacles to the ballot box,” the report states. “Automatic, permanent voter registration would vastly improve American democracy.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Sounds of crickets chirping in the GOP-friendly Arizona media.

The legislative session is not over yet, and Arizona has the notorious “strike everything amendment” that could be used to pass universal (automatic) voter registration, if Tea-Publicans in the legislature were ready to accept the future of voter registration — and to provide the funding necessary to the Department of Motor Vehicles to update its voter registration system in the wake of questions raised by the recent Presidential Preference Election.


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