Rhode Island is on the brink of enacting legislation that would automatically register all eligible voters when they interact with the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, making it potentially the ninth state to embrace an idea that could significantly expand the franchise.
The state Senate on Friday approved an automatic voter registration measure unanimously passed by the state House in May. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is expected to sign the bill.
“Automatic voter registration is one of the innovations Rhode Island can and should institute to engage more of the public with the democratic process. It would make participation easier for first-time voters, and help reduce the incidence of would-be voters being turned away at the polls,” state Sen. Gayle Goldin (D), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement. “True democracy depends on encouraging all citizens to vote, and finding ways to eliminate the roadblocks that prevent them from doing so. Automatic registration will help bring Rhode Island closer to that ideal.”
Oregon was the first state to implement automatic voter registration last year and while it’s too early to assess its impact, there are already signs it leads to more engagement in elections. Separate research has shown simply making a choice the default option increases the likelihood participants will choose it.
Legislation was introduced in 32 states so far in 2017, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Advocates say the idea picked up steam amid an increased focus on elections and efforts to purge voter rolls.
Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Oregon, West Virginia, Vermont and the District of Columbia have all adopted some form of automatic voter registration. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) also said earlier this year he intends to sign an automatic voter registration bill after previously vetoing similar legislation last year.