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Our Government Should Work to Improve Motor Voter Compliance and Increase Registration Numbers, Not Attempt to Remove Eligible Voters From the Rolls

Naila Awan

There are approximately 50 million eligible people who are not registered to vote in the United States—a fact you might not realize, given the Trump administration’s obsession with chasing false claims of illegal voting.

Last week, Dēmos released a new report on the effectiveness of motor voter provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which require motor vehicle offices (DMVs) to provide individuals with access to voter registration when they apply for, renew or update a driver’s license or state identification card. The new report, Accelerating the Vote: How States Are Improving Motor-Voter Registration Under the National Voter Registration Act, profiles the states that have taken steps to comply with the motor voter requirements in recent years, and quantifies the impacts of these reforms on voter registration. Dēmos found that compliance with the NVRA’s motor voter requirements results in significant increases in voter registration numbers across the board:

  • In Connecticut, where the most comprehensive reforms were adopted, there was an increase of around 7,800 voter registration applications processed through DMVs per month, or over 900 percent.
  • In California, where reforms have not been fully implemented, the number of voter registration applications originating from the DMV reached 41,918 per month from April through October of 2016, a 53 percent increase from the same period in 2012.

As Accelerating the Vote explains, if the voter registration requirements of the NVRA are properly implemented by all states, substantially more eligible Americans will be registered and able to participate in the democratic process.

Given this, you might expect the administration to be working with states to bring them into compliance with their motor voter obligations. You would be wrong.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to forty-four states asking them to provide the federal government with an explanation of what steps they are taking to comply with voter purge sections of the NVRA. The scope of the inquiry indicates that the Department is only concerned with removing voters from the rolls, not ensuring that the millions of eligible, non-registered Americans are provided with federally-mandated opportunities to register so they can exercise their right to vote.

The DOJ letters were sent on the very same day that the Pence-Kobach Commission—set up to bolster the President’s lies about illegal voting in the recent election—sent letters to all 50 states asking for private information on voters.

The commission lacked credibility from the outset. Its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is notorious for his bogus voter fraud claims, and his participation provides proof of the commission’s illegitimacy. The commission asked for an extensive amount of voter data, including the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, registrants’ full names, addresses, party affiliation, past voter history, military status, and information regarding voter registration in other states. Rightly, the request was met with immediate alarm by state officials across the political spectrum. Currently forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to comply with some of the information requests by the commission, citing state laws and privacy concerns.

Taken together, these letters demonstrate that the current administration is laser-focused on using its resources to suppress votes.

To increase political participation in our nation, it is incumbent on states to implement the cost-effective and voter-friendly reforms required by the National Voter Registration Act and continue to reject the administration’s voter suppression tactics.