Vermont passes automatic voter registration nearly unanimously

Yesterday, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill providing for automatic voter registration in Vermont for citizens who interact with the DMV and other state agencies unless they opt out.

Vermont is now the fourth state to adopt automatic voter registration, with Oregon, California and West Virginia having already adopted the policy.

As was the case in West Virginia, Vermont’s automatic voter registration bill included broad support from both parties in the state. Unlike West Virginia, Vermont’s automatic voter registration bill was not paired with any other electoral reforms. West Virginia’s measure was included as part of a compromise that included a soft voter ID requirement.

As I’ve written before, there really aren’t any good arguments against automatic voter registration. As I’ve also written before, Republicans who would normally be expected to come up with bad arguments against automatic voter registration seem to not bother themselves when they happen to live in states where the non-white population is low as a percentage of the total.

Vermont is the second-whitest state in the country, with less than one percent of its population identifying as African-American.

Register, via Shutterstock

Register, via Shutterstock

So good on Vermont Republicans for getting on board with automatic voter registration, and I’d expect to see the policy continue to pick up momentum in blue states where Democrats control the legislature and governor’s mansion. It’s currently on the docket in over half of the states, plus DC. But let’s not kid ourselves: In states where partisanship doesn’t intersect with race, making voting easier is clearly not as controversial as in states where it does.

As I wrote in January, this fits a pattern:

Racism remains one of the primary predictors of opposition to social welfare programs in the United States. And it’s no accident that the states with some of the most progressive policies — North Dakota has a public bank; Utah provides free housing to its homeless population; Alaska’s permanent fund dividend is, for all intents and purposes, a universal basic income — also happen to be some of the whitest.

Automatic voter registration still doesn’t appear to be all that big of a deal for Republicans if black people don’t stand to benefit from it. If the GOP wants to prove me wrong, they can go ahead and get on board with the policy in a state where African-Americans make up more than five percent of the population.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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