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Automatic Voter Registration Gains Momentum in West Virginia

West Virginia became the latest state to approve automatic voter registration, when policymakers enacted a new law this month that registers voters when they receive or renew their driver’s licenses, the Brennan Center for Justice reported. bcj_logo_feature

The new system suggests that automatic voter registration is gaining momentum around the country, with West Virginia joining Oregon and California. Oregon enacted a voter registration proposal in March 2015, and California approved its plan later that year in October. In West Virginia, the measure passed with deep bipartisan support, the center found.

“This breakthrough will transform voter registration in the Mountain State: Eligible citizens who obtain or renew a driver’s license will be automatically and securely registered to vote (unless they opt out). The measure, which takes effect in July 2017, will create a more convenient, accurate, and seamless process for voters, DMV staff, and election officials” the Brennan Center said on its blog, West Virginia Third State to Pass Automatic Voter Registration.

These three states enacted automatic voter registration amid a new debate about voting rules and restrictions, sparked, in part, by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling on the Voting Rights Act, which gave states greater freedom to set rules on voting.

“Since the 2010 election, 21 states have new voting restrictions – and 15 will have them in effect for the first time in a presidential election in 2016. Yet many of these rules address only one form of misconduct, in-person voter impersonation, which is vanishingly rare,” the Brennan Center reported this January.

Earlier this year on Super Tuesday, five states in the South and Southwest enforced stricter voting identification requirements, while five states made it easier for U.S. citizens to vote on those primaries, according to the Brennan Center.

Voter registration holds the potential of broader engagement in the political process.

“More than 15,500 Oregonians were registered in the first two months with the new system in place — a four-fold increase. Thirty percent of the records transferred from the DMV to election officials reflected eligible but previously unregistered citizens,” the Brennan Center added on its blog this month.

The Brennan Center for Justice, which is based in New York City, is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on democracy and justice. 

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