JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While Republicans across the state look to pass legislation on photo voter ID laws (or get it on the ballot via petition in the case of Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft), two house Democrats have a different idea concerning voter accessibility.
Reps. Randy Dunn, D-Kansas City, and Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, have both put forth separate pieces of legislation which would enable automatic voter registration based on driver’s license information instead of the current independent registration process.
Dunn, speaking only for his own bill, hopes this bill boosts voter turnout by removing certain hoops that must be jumped through by individuals to become registered voters.
“For me, I believe we need to be engaging as many people as possible in the political process,” Dunn said. “This is one vehicle to make sure we are getting more people registered.”
He also denounced attempts by some lawmakers to inhibit the voting process for certain people. He denounced attempts to pass photo voter ID laws; Democrats have contended that such laws disenfranchise minority and urban voters.
“There have been attempts over the last couple of years to do just the opposite to stymie individuals from exercising the right to vote, and I think that’s the exact opposite of what we need to be doing,” he continued. “It’s almost like people are trying to pick who the voters are instead of voters deciding who their representatives will be.”
How both bills would essentially work is simple: the secretary of state’s office would use the data present on driver’s licenses, which includes address and subsequently voting location, registered via the Department of Motor Vehicles and transfer it into the voter registry.
This 2013 article from Democracy, a liberal-leaning web journal, argues that this process would cut down on government inefficiencies and redundancies and lower costs associated with the voter registration process. On the other hand, Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that mandatory voter registration, as he calls it, would “throw the current system into chaos” if oversights led to double registration of individuals or the registration of ineligible voters. He also believes it would violate a person’s right to not be involved in the political process.
However, Missouri’s two bills seem to account for some of Spakovsky’s concerns. Dunn’s bill has a provision which would allow those renewing or applying for a license to decline to register, and Gardner’s bill retains the rights of local election authorities to have jurisdiction over verifying certain individuals. Dunn also added he would want to make the legislation as foolproof as possible before it became law.
“If there were issues and individuals who were falling through the cracks, we would certainly modify it that way so we’re certainly not disenfranchising anyone,” he said.
The system has already been approved in California and Oregon as an effort to boost voter turnout in those respective states, though it is unclear as of yet if the intended result will occur given the recency of those policies’ implementation. A similar measure was put forth in New Jersey, but it was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in November. Illinois is also considering automatic registration.