Montgomery Democrat proposes automatic voter registration

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By Bryan Renbaum

For MarylandReporter.com

Sen. Roger Manno

Sen. Roger Manno

Maryland Sen. Roger Manno wants to eliminate voter registration, and instead automatically enroll every Marylander of voting age with a state-issued ID card or receives benefits from social services.

On Thursday, Manno, D-Montgomery told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that it is time for Maryland to modernize its voter registration system and join states like Oregon and California that have already enacted similar legislation.

“For the last couple of hundred years governments have had all kinds of hurdles thrown up to make it more onerous or difficult for folks to be able to cast their vote or poll test requirements that you be a man, or that you own property: there were literacy tests, and there are still some vestiges of those difficult provisions in state law,” Manno said.

“What [Oregon and California] have done is basically identify a universe of folks who are eligible to vote, and at the age of eligibility, will register them to vote, so that they don’t have to jump through that hoop to actually go and cast their votes,” Manno said.

SB 350, which he calls The Universal Voter Registration Act, requires the Motor Vehicle Administration and social services agencies to provide the State Board of Elections with electronic records containing information about eligible voters, beginning at age 16, and retroactively register them. For those who wish to opt out, local election boards will mail exemption notices.

The bill enjoys support from committee Chair Joan Carter Conway and Vice Chair Paul Pinksy, along with 17 other Democrats. But it faces opposition from others over concerns about cost and the potential for fraud.

Added costs

According to the fiscal note produced by the Department of Legislative Services, state expenditures are projected to increase at least $400,000 in one-time implementation costs for FY 2017, and could prove more expensive for local governments who would bear the responsibility for notifying voters.

In particular, the social service agencies could have additional costs. According to the Department of Legislative Services, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services would need to spend about $1 million initially and then another $100,000 per year in ongoing costs in order to have a system that would track the required information.

Civil rights advocates support bill    

Gabriel Acevero, vice president of the African-American Democratic Club of Montgomery County, said the bill could potentially save the state money by doing away with registration costs and subsequently explained that registration hassles and systemic inefficiencies discourage greater participation.

“Voting has long been considered the touchstone of our democracy, yet we force voters to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops to perform this sacred act of citizenship.” In Maryland, election officials spend roughly a third of their budgets on the registration process, he said. “This current system of voter registration is a nightmare,” Acevero said.

An official from the Hispanic advocacy group CASA de Maryland said that the bill could also help remedy voter participation in that community. Minorities or low-income residents, and Latinos in particular, are underrepresented in the electorate due to registration challenges, she said.

Republican senators skeptical

Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carrol & Howard, was concerned that the bill would enable non-citizens to vote. The bill requires that only citizens be registered, but Bates questioned if this will be checked.

“I have an issue with agencies that maybe cannot or will not for whatever reason, verify — then just having them automatically registered — we don’t know if people are actually U.S citizens or not,” Bates said. Maryland issues driver’s licenses to many noncitizens, even illegal aliens.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, believes the bill would not remedy low voter participation, which he attributes to general apathy.

“I don’t think that voter registration is the issue, I think it’s more that people are fed up with politicians and politics and they’re not engaged in the process because they don’t want to be engaged in the process,” Simonaire said.

Counties and GOP oppose bill     

Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, was the only party who testified against the bill, citing cost concerns.

“Our issues are on the practical side, we’ve heard from a number of our election directors who are just concerned about the back of end of the bill as submitted. I gather there’s a substantial set of amendments that speak to the administrative side and I haven’t quite seen them yet,” Sanderson said.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, told Maryland Reporter that he opposes the bill as well.

“It opens it up to the door to voter fraud because they are adding people who don’t want to be registered to vote,” Cluster said. He said that adequate background checks are not in place either.

Bryan Renbaum can be contacted at: brenbaum1983@gmail.com

  • Joseph

    Well, as usual, the only people really objecting are Republicans because they know any increased voter registration efforts will most definitely result in more Democrats than Republicans being registered, due to low registration rates of poor and/or non-white voters. God forbid more people participate in elections.

    They know non-citizens will be excluded, and there is no existing fraud relevant to this. They just don’t want anything in place that could lead to more participation from low-turnout Democratic voter groups. This is why Republican-controlled Southern states have such poor voting laws, and some with terrible voter turnout, like Texas.

  • higgy01

    This clown is typical of the democrats. Voting is a right of those that are CITIZENS of the United States of America. In order to register one has to prove that fact. As far as the illegal, criminal organization Casa de Maryland, they not only shelter illegal aliens but through manuals and other means actively commit anti-immigration crimes.

  • The bill does stipulate that those who are registered must be US citizens. However, read it closely. It says that MVA must implement in its computer system a box for “customers” to check yes or no as to whether they are US Citizens, and add the qualifier “under penalty of perjury”.

    Let me just ask – who will verify that “customers” are actually US Citizens? Will they be asked to provide PROOF of citizenship? Maryland law was changed to allow illegals to receive a second tier driver’s license which they stated could NOT be used as identification, but then the Fed stepped up in May of last year and starting accepting these types of licenses as identification for the purposes of obtaining a job, etc.

    Of course this begs the question – they say this system will check and make sure those who get IDs through MVA are automatically registered to vote, and that a system of checks will be in place to ensure they are eligible to vote. How is this different from voters being asked to produce ID before they vote?

    Sounds like another end run around laws in the country that actually work to prevent fraud. This sounds more and more like a Democrat voter registration drive, courtesy of the state (and Federal) government.