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Should Arizona Implement
Auto Voter Registration?

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Image by Theresa Thompson and used under a Creative Commons license.
Despite Staunch Opposition From Republicans, Senator Andrew Sherwood Will Introduce Automatic Voter Registration Legislation For A Second Time


By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 15, 2016 — Arizona has a voter registration problem. According to the Voting Age Population by Citizenship and Race Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2009 to 2013, there are roughly 4.36 million U.S. citizens over the age of 18 living in the state. Despite this large figure, there are just 3.30 million registered voters in Arizona according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s statistics.

That means more than 1 million eligible voters can’t actually vote on election day and one-quarter of the those to vote aren’t registered.

Democrats in Arizona are looking to raise those numbers through the implementation of automatic voter registration.

As it stands, voter registration in Arizona and throughout most of the U.S. is based on an “opt-in” system that requires eligible citizens to register at the DMV, online or in some other way that takes initiative on the voter’s part. With automatic voter registration, the government would be responsible for ensuring that voters are registered when they become eligible and for taking measures to make sure that there aren’t redundancies in the voter roll.

“Voter registration should be the mutual responsibility of citizens and their government. The government should not only facilitate registration; it should actively register adults who are eligible to vote as part of its responsibility to have accurate rolls,” according to a statement by FairVote, a non-profit pro-democracy organization that is very much in favor of the reform. “100 percent voter registration should be the goal. Moreover, universal voter registration has the potential to bring together conservatives who are concerned about fraudulent voter registrations and liberals who are concerned about anemic political participation.”

Sen. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, will be filing a bill in January that will propose the implementation of automatic voter registration in Arizona, but its success is considered a long shot. Sherwood filed a similar bill during last year’s session, but “it didn’t receive a committee assignment in the House until one of the final days of session in March, when it was assigned to the House Rules Committee as a procedural maneuver necessary for adjournment,” he said.

One of the largest, single hurdle standing in the way of automatic voter registration in Arizona is the state's Republican-controlled legislature and Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, who has voiced opposition to the change. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey isn’t likely to go against his party on the matter either.

The national picture is mixed when it comes to automatic voter registration. Arizonans who support the measure can find inspiration from success stories in California and Oregon, both of which adopted automatic voter registration. Many other states like Missouri are looking at similar measures to potentially be voted on in this year's upcoming election.

On the flip side of things, other states seem to be trending in the opposite direction. Take a look at North Carolina, for instance, where civil rights groups are suing to have measures repealed that reduced early voting days, ended same-day registration, ended out-of-precinct voting and halted the preregistration of 16- and 17-year-old high school students. The plaintiffs in these cases believe the legislation was drafted in order to deliberately reduce African-American voters.

Automatic voter registration may seem like common sense, so it is hard to imagine that both Republicans and Democrats can’t get behind it. Though, the Republicans may have reason to argue against for decidedly self-serving reasons that are not necessarily in the interest of the public.

Jeremy Bird, who led President Barack Obama’s voter turnout campaign in 2012, is now leading a group called iVote that is championing automatic voter registration reform. According to Bird many of the new voters that would benefit from automatic registration are likely to come from demographic groups that tend to support Democratic candidates, such as young people, low income citizens and minorities.

“I do think it can be a complete game-changer,” Bird said in a statement. “It’s definitely countering what we see as a very organized and well-funded effort by the Republican Party across the country to chip away at voting rights.”

So, is automatic voter registration legislation likely to pass in Arizona? The indicators say no, but there are other things that supporters can to help get this pushed through. We do live in a democracy, afterall.

For one, a citizen’s initiative can be filed with the Secretary of State, which would allow for the circulation of petitions to gather signatures from citizens who are in favor of the initiative. For a citizens initiative like this needs 150,000 signatures to pass. Alternatively, a constitutional amendment requires more than 225,000 signatures. The filing deadline for either of these measures July 7, 2016, though, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to gather that many signatures.

Additionally, any Arizona citizens who would like to see their state representatives show support for automatic voter registration can voice their opinion to their representative by contacting members of the Arizona State Legislature. To find contact info for your legislators, visit the Arizona State Legislature website.

In the event that automatic voter registration makes it onto the ballot in November, the most important thing supporters can do, ironically, is make sure that they are registered to vote and be sure to turn out and vote on election day.
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