Vermont Business Magazine With some governors working to make it harder for citizens to vote, Governor Peter Shumlin today signed a law to make it easier. The bill (H458), signed into law at Montpelier City Hall, automatically registers eligible Vermonters to vote when they apply for a state driver’s license. President Obama has called for so-called automatic voter registration (AVR) laws to be adopted nationwide. Vermont is now the fourth state with such a law.
“While states across the country are making it harder for voters to get to the polls, Vermont is making it easier by moving forward with commonsense polices that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy,” Shumlin said. “I would like to thank Secretary Condos who has long championed important electoral reforms to help more Vermonters exercise this fundamental right to vote.”
“As Vermont’s Secretary of State, I believe voting is a sacred right – one we must protect and encourage by removing unnecessary barriers. Automatic Voter Registration saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections,” said Secretary Condos. “AVR saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections.”
H.458 passed through the Vermont Legislature with virtual unanimous support. It will streamline voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with a system that identifies eligible Vermonters and automatically sends their information to the town or city clerk for addition to the checklist, unless they opt out.
Jaquelyn Reike, owner of Nutty Steph’s in Middlesex and member of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont, spoke at the bill signing. She said, “This new law will protect the right of every eligible voter in Vermont – be they Democrat, Republican, Progressive, or Independent – to have their voice heard and their vote counted.”
“In Vermont at least, voting is an idea that leaders of all political stripes can get behind,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “The simple truth is, this law will mean more people voting, and that’s healthy for our democracy.“
“What struck me most about this process was that the debate turned entirely on ensuring that every part of this bill increased access broadly and equitably for all Vermonters,” said Lindsay DesLauriers, Director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “While there is a push to limit voter access in other parts of this country, the members of all parties in Vermont questioned only the extent to which this legislation could be more inclusive and create more opportunities for people to vote. It reminded me how lucky we are to live in Vermont.”
Main Street Alliance of Vermont, VPIRG, and Rights & Democracy worked closely with bill sponsor, Representative Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Secretary of State Condos to ensure that Vermont’s new law would protect and enhance the rights of all Vermonters. It also makes the system nimble and portable, so that a voter’s registration information is automatically updated whenever they change their address.
“At a time when several other states are busy setting up roadblocks to voter registration and participation, we are proud to be part of the effort to take an important step forward for democracy,” said Sheila Reed, board member of Rights & Democracy from Ryegate.
Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders issued the following statement: “While other states across the country are making it harder to vote, I’m proud that Vermont is once again among the states leading the nation by making it easier for people to participate in the political process. If we believe in a vibrant democracy, we need to have the highest voter turnout in the world. Congress must follow Vermont’s lead and pass legislation I have introduced to require all states to automatically register individuals to vote if they are eligible. Enough with cowardly politicians protecting themselves by suppressing the vote. It’s time to ensure that voting remains a right for all Americans."
To see Sanders’ bill to automatically register voters, click here.
Earlier this year, as part of a broader push for electoral reforms, President Obama addressed the Illinois General Assembly to express support for automatic voter registration through driver license applications and encouraged states to lead in making the practice “the new norm across America.” Vermont joins Oregon, California, and West Virginia in adopting an AVR law.
Meanwhile, states across the country are being cited with the passage of laws that make it harder for their citizens to vote. Most notably a North Carolina law, which was upheld on Monday by a federal judge, peeled back a provision to allow same day voter registration, reduced the early-voting period, and enforced a voter identification requirement that critics are calling discriminatory and regressive.
Vermont continues to pave the way for greater democratic participation, just last year becoming the 14th state to allow same-day voter registration. It is estimated that automatic voter registration could add between 30,000 and 50,000 new voters within the first four years, strengthening Vermont’s ranking as a state with among the highest registration rates in the country.
The law will go into effect July 1, 2017.