PHOTO: Voter registration

TWENTY states and the District of Columbia use Automated Verification and Registration to update their voter rolls. Virginia should consider doing likewise.

Under AVR, whenever residents interact with a state government agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the information they provide is automatically transmitted to the state’s election agency, which then uses it to register them to vote if applicable, update the registered voter list, and discard outdated or duplicate information.

The idea took off in Oregon, which passed the nation’s first AVR law in 2015. Eligible but unregistered voters identified by the Oregon DMV were notified by mail that their names would be automatically added to the state’s voter rolls unless they opted out via a postcard.

The AVR program was found to increase not only the racial, age and income diversity of Oregon’s voters, but voter turnout as well. After two years, Oregon had registered 90 percent of all eligible voters, many living in rural counties. And a review found that the automated registration did not favor either major political party. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, called the program “a phenomenal success.”

Besides adding more eligible voters to the rolls, AVR also helps prevent people who are not eligible to vote from casting ballots.

“If you are someone who is concerned about election integrity and preventing fraud, maintaining accurate lists is one of the best ways possible to prevent fraud,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who has proposed using AVR in his state.

Ohio came under fire last year for purging its voter registration lists of people who had not voted in six years and did not send back a postcard confirming their current address, a practice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Due to database errors, any voters purged from the system will be allowed to vote via a provisional ballot until 2022.

And contrary to claims made by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, who blamed her loss last year to Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp on “voter suppression,” a new report by the federal government found that “Georgia led the nation in automated voter registration and accepted a higher percentage of absentee and provisional ballots than [during] previous years.” Under AVR, registered voters increased by nearly a million between 2014 and 2018, setting a state record and more than offsetting the number of inactive voters purged from the system.

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, general registrars (who have the “ultimate authority to retain, remove, or update voters on the voter list”) “process thousands of voter registration transactions per month.” These include confirmation mailings to match voters against the Post Office’s National Change of Address Registry and Social Security’s death records, comparing voter registration data with neighboring states, and identifying people who should not be on the list, including non-citizens, felons whose voting rights have not been restored, and people who have been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent.

Virginia’s DMV, which came under fire in 2001 after loopholes in the system allowed seven 9/11 hijackers to obtain Virginia drivers licenses, by law requires proof of legal status before issuing a drivers license or ID. It already collects and verifies documents that prove U.S. citizenship (a birth certificate, passport or certificate of naturalization) and Virginia residency, both of which are required to vote in state and local elections.

Failure to register by the deadline, which is three weeks before a general election, is one of the main reasons eligible voters are not allowed to cast a ballot. Another is failing to report a change of name or address. By transmitting already collected and verified information directly to the Virginia Department of Elections, the voter rolls would be easily and accurately updated automatically.

Even with numerous safeguards, occasional human errors and computer glitches are inevitable in any large database, and state voter rolls and DMV are no exception. But since this information is continuously updated under AVR, registrars would have ample time to spot and reconcile any discrepancies far in advance of an election.

AVR does not guarantee voter turnout. People still have to show up at the polls on Election Day or vote absentee. In the 2018 midterm congressional elections, only 59.5 percent of registered voters in Virginia bothered to cast a ballot. But registration is the first step.

According to the Secure Elections Project, AVR “secures elections against interference from abroad and fraud from within, saves money in the long run, and doesn’t rely on ‘help’ from the federal government.” All good reasons to automate the process.

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