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Vermont To Implement Same Day Voter Registration

This week Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law allowing same day voter registration.  While many activists are praising the move, some concerns remain about the logistics implementing the new law.

As the governor signed S.29 he noted that “voting is the cornerstone of our democracy,” and hoped same day voter registration will increase participation in the political process.  Currently Vermonters must register to vote by the Wednesday before an election. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says passage of the bill was one of his legislative priorities this session.  “Same day voter registration is simply a voters’ rights issue. Voting is a right that’s protected by both the U.S. and Vermont constitutions. It’s important that we remember that’s the case and that the law should really protect this right and every eligible person should have the ability to cast a ballot.  That’s the key is every eligible person should have the ability to cast a ballot regardless of whether they’re registered or not and not everyone has the opportunity.  It’s not always easy to get to a point where you have to register.”

Condos adds that jurisdictions that have implemented same day registration have seen greater voter participation.  “There are thirteen states plus the District of Columbia that currently have same day voter registration and there is between 8 and 12 percent increase in voter participation from those states.  So we think that it will have an impact on voter participation.  Obviously we can’t tell you what the percentage will be, but we think it will.  Let’s just say we take the middle number of 10 percent. In Vermont that would be about 4,500 additional voters that would be voting.  We think that’s significant.”

House Committee on Government Operations Committee Chair Donna Sweaney notes that a number of people raised concerns over the process.  But she says the committee decided there was both a demand and a need for the measure.   “We’re such a mobile society, such a busy society and used to having things right away. And especially for us along the Connecticut River, New Hampshire does have same day voter.  I think that’s created issues for us especially along the Connecticut River. And it’s the situation of helping people vote.  We decided any barriers we can move out of the way of keeping people able to vote was something that we needed to do.”  

The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2017.  The delay in implementation is due in part to concerns from town clerks across Vermont, who had twice previously killed such bills.  South Burlington Town Clerk Donna Kinville says there are a number of practical concerns among town clerks, including lack of internet availability at polling places that would allow them to verify voter checklists.   “The concerns that I have with it is the fact that there is no proof of residency or even ID.  We can ask for no ID. The second issue that I have is the cost.  It’s going to increase our property taxes.  The third issue that I have is the bill doesn’t go into effect until 2017. The bill does stipulate that the Secretary of State’s office shall do a report next January that says these are the issues that the clerks brought up and these are our answers to their questions. It’s not going to start until 2017.  Why did they even pass it to begin with knowing that there’s going to be changes to this bill?”

Vermont requires that voters take an oath upon registering but town clerks no longer must administer it.

Copyright 2015 WAMC Northeast Public Radio

Pat Bradley

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