By Delegate Andrew Robinson
D-Kanawha County, 36th District
In 2016, the West Virginia Legislature passed legislation to implement Automatic Voter Registration. Automatic Voter Registration changes our voter registration process at the Division of Motor Vehicles from drivers opting-in to becoming a registered voter to allowing those not interested to opt-out of registering to vote.
Our current Governor likes to complain that he is tired of being “50th in everything” – but we were not 50th in this. West Virginia was the third state in the nation to pass Automatic Voter Registration legislation. However, at the rate that the Secretary of State and DMV are implementing the program, we may ultimately end up being last.
Oregon became the first state in the nation to implement Automatic Voter Registration in 2016, and their voter registration rates have quadrupled. In its first six months of implementation in Vermont, voter registration rates jumped 62%.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the Automatic Voter Registration legislation, which included parameters for voter identification, in April of 2016. It is now March of 2019 – nearly 3 years later — and West Virginia’s Automatic Voter Registration is non-existent.
In February of 2017, my first year in the Legislature, we were asked to give the Secretary of State and the DMV more time to prepare for implementation of Automatic Voter Registration. At their request, we passed legislation pushing back implementation to July of 2019.
Now they are back asking for more time.
This legislative session, the Legislature has been forced to extend the deadline for implementation of Automatic Voter Registration to July of 2021, skipping another presidential election.
I use the word “forced” because it was made clear that our Secretary of State does not want to implement this program and is willing to sabotage Automatic Voter Registration instead of implementing a program that the Legislature overwhelming directed his office to implement 3 years ago. In order to save the program, the Legislature will have to extend the timeline for the Secretary of State to complete the project to five years, when West Virginia could have a newly elected Secretary of State- hopefully one who will support efforts to get more West Virginians registered to vote.
There is no question that Automatic Voter Registration is effective — are we just scared that too many people will register to vote?
I would assume the Secretary of State may argue that there is a cost to implementing Automatic Voter Registration – maybe we could have used the more than $3 million dollars in taxpayer money paid out to former employees of his office who were improperly fired for political reasons to pay for it.
We should be encouraging West Virginians to be involved in the political process, if we hope to improve it. Voting is the first step in getting involved and I would suggest we make it a priority.