Neil Clark, President of Grant Street Consultants, is carefully monitoring the initiative petitions that may end up in front of Ohio voter’s this November and thought clients would like an update on one such measure – the “Secure and Fair Elections” Amendment.

Just this week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the language for the “Secure and Fair Elections Amendment”  because the summary of the proposed constitutional amendment is longer than the proposed amendment itself and includes a paragraph that is not actually included in the proposed amendment.

The group backing the amendment is the ACLU of Ohio – they readily admit that rejecting petition language is a common practice and they remain committed to the initiative, planning to refile language soon. The group must collect nearly 443,000 valid signatures by July to qualify for the November Ballot.

What does the amendment propose?

The Secure and Fair Elections amendment would create automatic voter registration and allow same-day registration and voting. This article will focus on explaining automatic voter registration (AVR).

Automatic Voter Registration, or AVR, is a process that typically registers a person to vote automatically when they transact with their Bureau of Motor Vehicles or other National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) agency.   As of June 2019, 18 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration.

How did AVR originate?

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act – which required most states to provide citizens the opportunity to register to vote when applying for or renewing their driver’s license at the BMV. Like with most official records, technological improvements have made shifting from paper-based forms to a digital record a safe and logical upgrade.  Combined with the fact that information collected by BMV’s can easily be transferred electronically into voter registration databases. This process proves to be successful and efficient as according to U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 33% of all voter registration applications – or about 25 million, originated through the BMV process.

The first state to actually implement AVR was Oregon in 2016.  In what is referred to as the “Oregon model,” an eligible voter who interacts with the BMV is NOT asked whether they would like to register to vote but is instead automatically opted into the registration.  The voter is then sent a notification later informing them that they were registered to vote and that they can opt-out by returning the notification.

How does AVR work in the Ohio amendment proposal?

Among other election-related proposals, the proposed Ohio ballot language would automatically register a voter upon their applying for, renewing, updating, or replacing an Ohio driver’s license, learner’s permit, or identification card with the BMV, unless the citizen affirmatively states in writing that they do not want to be registered to vote.  In other words, the citizen must opt-out at the agency if they do not want to be registered to vote. Two other states that have an “opt-out” at the agency type of AVR are Rhode Island California.

What are the Pros of Automatic Voter Registration?

Proponents of AVR say that by registering voters through a routine and necessary transaction like obtaining a driver’s license, barriers to registration and deadlines are removed and increased voter participation will be the result.  This has yet to be proven as there is not enough data yet to support the claim.

Cleaner voter registration rolls and taxpayer savings because the process updates existing registrations with current addresses – leading to reducing the need for costly provisional ballots, which are the fail-safe voting option when there is a discrepancy in voter’s registration status.

Better compliance with federal law.  Because the federal law requires eligible voter be offered an opportunity to vote at designated agencies, automatically registering individuals follows the law and reduces the possibility of human error in the process.

What are the Cons of AVR?

Opponents have concerns that the government should not be in the business of telling citizens what to do or that they must register to vote. Some view AVR as an infringement upon the First Amendment right to free speech, particularly when states like Alaska provide the “op-out” choice by mail, after the fact.

Some argue that voter fraud is a concern and question whether the process can adequately filter out noncitizens who legally obtain state ID cards.

Lastly, opponents argue that merely increasing voter registration numbers does not necessarily equal to higher voter turnout.  Just because a voter is registered is certainly no guarantee that they will vote on Election Day and it remains to be seen if more voters get to the polls simply because of automatic voter registration.

Grant Street Consultants, with nearly fifty years of public policy and budget expertise, has earned its reputation as Ohio’s premier lobbying firm.  And though Ohio’s political landscape changes with nearly every statewide election, one thing that remains a constant is the ability of Grant Street Consultants to win on behalf of their client partners.

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