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Automatic voter registration bill passes state Senate

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers are moving forward on expanding access to voting through automatic registration.


Currently when someone comes to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new driver's license, they are asked if they want to register to vote.


But under legislation passed by the State Senate Tuesday, Delawareans will no longer be asked that question.  They’ll be registered automatically if qualified, and sent a postcard later asking if they’d like to opt-out.


Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Brookside) says this kind of bill is a great step towards improving access to voting in the First State.


“And if the downside is other people are registered to vote but then are able to opt out, and if some reason they don’t opt out they in no way whatsoever are compelled to vote or participate in the process, that is worth it — It is worth it to try, there’s basically no harm or pain on people while elevating others to the status of registered voter," Townsend said.


But Republican senators brought up baseless concerns that non-citizens would be registered, or these automatically registered voters would be more open to fraud.


The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Brandywine Hundred), says those accusations are not backed up with any verifiable examples of voter fraud.


Some Senate Republicans, such as Colin Bonini (R-South Dover), liken the system to a form of compulsory voting.


“And we can encourage people to participate but it should be their choice," Bonini says. "And I know the response will be well, you can always opt out but come on — let's be honest, an opt out is being compelled to do it.”


But bill’s supporters say it does nothing to require people to vote. 


In Delaware’s last election, a little under 70 percent of the state’s registered voters cast a ballot.


Supporters add the measure only ensures more people are registered before they get to the polls, and don’t need to worry about voter registration deadlines or not being on the voter rolls.


The bill passed in a straight along party line vote and now heads to the house.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.


Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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