From The Hill
By Ben Kamisar
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has proposed a bill to automatically register Americans to vote, fresh off of similar calls by Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“Today, too many politicians are trying to make it harder than ever for citizens to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” Cicilline said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Automatic Voter Registration Act will protect the right to vote and expand access for eligible voters across the United States. I thank my colleagues who have co-sponsored this important legislation that helps to expand one of our most essential rights as Americans.”
The Rhode Islander’s bill would require local motor vehicle departments to forward individuals' information to elections officials, who would then send the person a notification that they’ll be registered to vote after 21-days. Anyone can opt out of the registration before that 21-day window is up, but they will be automatically registered unless they do so.
Federal law currently requires that citizens be given the option to vote when visiting motor vehicle departments.
Cicilline told The Hill in an interview that his bill "reverses the presumption" to take the burden of registering off of the potential voter.
"Currently, you have to take an affirmative act to vote and register and as a result of that, a number of people never register and as a consequence don’t have the ability to participate in our elections," he said.
He added that while lawmakers have to give voters confidence that the choices they make at the ballot box matter, he believes the bill will increase the number of voters who turn out to the polls.
Clinton called for automatic voter registration during a fiery speech last week that criticized Republican presidential hopefuls for “systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of citizens from voting.”
She chided the current registration system as a “relic” and called for modernizing it.
“Every young man or young woman in every state in the union should be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 – unless they actively choose to opt-out,” she said at Texas Southern University.
“This would have a profound impact on our elections and our democracy.”
Clinton’s campaign did not return a request for comment about Cicilline’s bill.
Cicilline told The Hill that he's been working on the legislation for "several months" and that the timing was not prompted by Clinton's comments, but he was "pleased to hear the Secretary reference it in her speech.”
Most minority-backed bills are unlikely to pass through Congress, and Clinton’s endorsement of the policies will likely make it even harder for the bill to earn enough Republican support to become law. While Cicilline admitted that passing the bill will be an uphill battle, he said he's confident that he could build bipartisan support and welcomed Clinton's efforts on the issue.
"Anytime you have important presidential candidates talking about an issue, it helps bring attention to it," he said.
And Cicilline has a number of powerful Democratic co-sponsors backing his bill. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), and civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) are among the 42 Democratic who initially signed onto the bill.