Motor voter and voter turnout

Efforts state governments make to improve turnout:

We’re a country full of excuses.

In my years working in Specialty Courts, I heard many amusing and incredibly predictable reasons offered to the Judge to explain someone’s positive drug test. “I was at a party and there was a lot of smoke because everyone else was smoking weed.” “Someone must have slipped some meth into my drink.” Or “The lab mixed up my test with someone who was using.”As a part-time instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, the excuses for why assignments aren’t completed are equally ridiculous—“I was caught in a snowstorm and had to submit my assignment on my phone and part of it didn’t go through.”

But at least these excuses are a little more creative than those given by people about why they aren’t registered to vote. “I forgot.” “My vote doesn’t count anyway.” “I registered at the DMV but they must not have turned in the paperwork.”

Actually, that last excuse might be the truth. More than 20 years ago, during the Clinton administration, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, requiring states to allow people to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles, making it a convenient option when applying for a driver’s license. Nevada, as is often the case, halfway complied with the new law, allowing the public to check a box on the application for a driver’s license indicating their interest in registering to vote. The DMV employee would then, in theory, hand them a voter registration form.

According to a recent story in the Las Vegas Sun, that last step often doesn’t happen. Frustrated people waiting in a long line may overlook the voter registration box. The DMV worker might forget to offer the form. Nevadans who move from one county to another aren’t automatically re-registered to vote when they update their addresses at the DMV; they have to do the whole process again.

One expert who specializes in the motor voter registration law told the Sun that Nevada is one of the worst states for compliance, noting “most of their procedures are facially noncompliant.” Not a huge surprise since modernizing the DMV’s computer system to allow people to fill out one form to get a driver’s license and register to vote, as the national law requires, would require funding, causing an automatic allergic reaction from policy-makers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the League of Women Voters, Project Vote, Demos, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund recently warned Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and DMV Director Terri Albertson that legal action might occur if Nevada continues its non-compliance. Cegavske responded that her office was working with the DMV to come up with a solution. But I’m guessing there will be a good deal of hand-wringing and stalling on the issue in the months ahead since Republicans seem more interested in making it harder to vote through Voter ID laws and other voting restrictions.

In related news, the state just settled a lawsuit regarding a different violation of the National Voter Registration Act over Nevada’s refusal to provide low income residents with voter registration materials when they seek public assistance.

Democrats should launch past Governor Sandoval, Cegavske, and Legislative Republicans in 2017 and implement a true motor-voter program as Oregon did last year. Our neighboring state changed their voter registration law to automatically register every eligible voter who has a driver’s license, adding thousands of residents to the voter pool in one fell swoop. Oregon has also used mail-in ballots since 1998, taking away every possible excuse for not making it to the polls.

When a candidate for state office knocks on your door this campaign cycle, tell them to fix motor voter once and for all. Tell them there’s no excuse.