Our view: Make it easier for people to vote

From The Santa Fe New Mexican

Here’s an idea that demands consideration — automatically registering citizens to vote. It makes much more sense than raising false alarms about nonexistent voter fraud and placing obstacles in the path of citizens who want to vote.

Earlier this month, California switched to automatic registration when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing the state to use Department of Motor Vehicles records to register citizens to vote. Beginning in 2016, all eligible California citizens who stop at a DMV office to get a driver’s license or renew one will be instantly registered to vote unless they opt out. Oregon started the trend with an automatic registration law signed in March, and a voter advocacy group, iVote, will be pushing for automatic registration across the nation.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla believes the new law will help draw in some 6.6 million California citizens who are eligible to vote. It also would eliminate last-minute attempts by people to register. Padilla said some 40,000 people logged on to the secretary of state website on Election Day to try and register to vote, only to discover they had waited too long.

This change should help one of the largest states improve voter turnout. California has one of the worst turnout records in the nation, with just 32.8 percent of eligible voters turning out last fall; New Mexico’s turnout was 38.3 percent. By making voter registration the default position, those dismal numbers should improve. We need improvement. In the 2014 midterm election, national turnout was a mere 36.3 percent, the worst in 70 years. It’s important for the country to consider ideas to encourage voting.

Should this movement take hold across the nation, more citizens will be able to participate in democracy. In New Mexico, with so many citizens living in isolation, far from the Motor Vehicle Division offices, the ability to get a driver’s license and register to vote in one stop would make it easier for thousands more people to participate in elections.

Citizens, not special-interest money, could take hold of the country again.

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