Maryland legislature passes automatic voter registration

Maryland legislature passes automatic voter registration
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Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature on Wednesday approved a measure to automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with certain state agencies.

The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk. Hogan has not said whether he supports the measure, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the measure passed by wide enough margins that the legislature could override any potential veto.

If the measure becomes law, Maryland would become the 11th state to adopt automatic voter registration. Any Marylander who interacts with the state's Motor Vehicle Administration, health-care exchange or social services offices would be signed up to vote unless they decline.

Voting rights advocates say automatic registration can add hundreds of thousands — in some cases millions — of new voters to the rolls, providing ballot access to those who would otherwise have to proactively seek out a voter registration form.

“The state of Maryland has taken a profound step forward in expanding access to the ballot,” state Sen. William Smith (D) said in a statement. “Creating an automatic registration program that links voting to everyday activities, like getting a driver’s license or collecting health benefits ensures greater voter participation which is the essential ingredient for any thriving democracy.”

Twenty-five other states are considering automatic voter registration bills introduced either last year or this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Just last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill making voter registration in that state automatic.

Oregon was the first state to automatically register voters when they interacted with state agencies, back in 2015. In just the first year under the program, almost a quarter of a million Oregonians registered to vote. California estimated it would add as many as 6.6 million new voters to the rolls when it implemented its own program a few months later.