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Vermont Enacts Same-Day Registration

Damon L. Daniels

Officially count Vermont as the latest state to usher in Same-Day Registration.

At a bill-signing ceremony today at the Montpelier Town Clerk’s office, Governor Peter Shumlin signed Senate Bill 29, which places SDR into effect on Election Day at every polling location in the Green Mountain State. With this action, Vermont joins 14 states and the District of Columbia in offering SDR. These forward-looking states are leading the charge in changing how elections operate in the 21st century.

Vermont’s passage of SDR happened amidst a number of pro-voter reforms taking shape across the country. In the past 11 months, Illinois and Hawaii became SDR states, and additional states are considering legislation as we speak. Moreover, with the passage of Oregon’s New Motor Voter law earlier this year, a number of states are considering automatic voter registration, which can take place through DMV offices, and hopefully through other voter registration-designated agencies in the future. These developments stand in complement to the groundswell of momentum in favor of technological fixes such as online voter registration, which became in law this year alone in Florida, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The significance of passing SDR in Vermont is certainly not lost on legislators. In an interview with Vermont Public Radio Host Bob Kinzel, Speaker of the House Shap Smith praised this new law:

Bob Kinzel: Is there a bill that’s going to pass this year that really didn’t get very much attention from the press, that you think should have because it’s going to have a key impact on the state of Vermont?

Speaker Smith: We passed a Same-Day Voter Registration bill. In a day and age where voter participation is going down, and where it’s more and more important have people involved, I think facilitating the ability of people to vote is really important. It’s fundamental to our democracy. In the end, if people don’t participate, and aren’t casting their ballots, I think it calls into question the legitimacy of our representative government. From my perspective, there are many states that have this, they see their voter participation rates go up, it’s really important for democracy as a whole.

As the country continues to debate what it truly means for America’s governing bodies to better align to the values of its citizenry, reforms like SDR take on increasing importance and urgency.

As my Demos colleague Sean McElwee has pointed out, an understanding of the demographics of voters versus non-voters matters in terms of policy decisions that our elected officials make, and the outcomes that occur. The fact that our elected officials are disproportionately influenced by the policy preferences of the wealthy is coupled with the finding that too many non-voters say they don't vote because they believe it wouldn't make a difference.

These problems coalesce to form a negative feedback loop where potential voters continuously opt-out of our electoral system, our elected officials ignore their interests, and their mutual reinforcement erodes the efficacy of our democracy. By making access easier, SDR is a crucial component to stemming the ebbs and flows of decreased voter participation. It's a key device for changing the way our country looks at and acts upon issues of inequality.

Vermont’s entry into the fold of SDR states warrants a hearty salute, and hopefully signals to other states that if the true end of governance is creating and maintaining a representative democracy, more pro-voter changes are due—now.