By: Laura Misch
During the November 2018 mid-term elections, Nevada voters had the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on Question 5—a ballot measure that would establish an automatic voter registration system in the state. The voters’ answer was a resounding yes, with approximately sixty percent voting in favor of the initiative. This enactment of an automatic voter registration system follows a larger trend that is quickly sweeping the nation. Prior to the 2018 elections, a total of eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, passed automatic voter registration. In 2018, Nevada became one of the six newest states to enact such a system. However, passing the ballot measure has proven to be only half the battle.
An explanation of Question 5 states the following:
This ballot measure proposes to amend Chapter 293 of the Nevada Revised Statutes to require the Secretary of State, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and each county clerk to cooperatively establish a system that automatically registers to vote an eligible person when the person submits an application for the issuance or renewal of or change of address for any type of driver’s license or identification card issued by the DMV. If the person is already registered to vote, the system would automatically update his or her existing Nevada voter registration information. The person would be allowed to affirmatively decline in writing to register to vote if he or she did not want to register to vote.
Thus, the initiative details the system that Nevada is to adopt, but it fails to address how automatic voter registration is going to be implemented. The state provided no source of funding. There was also no agreed upon timeline for the new system’s implementation.
On December 18, 2018, representatives from the DMV, the Secretary of State’s office, the Governor’s office, Enterprise IT Services (EITS), and the Nevada County Clerks came together to form a steering committee—an advisory group tasked with outlining the scope of the project. The committee decided on four main goals: (1) determining how to transmit personal information and voter registration data from the DMV to the Secretary of State and county offices; (2) creating the actual automatic voter registration process for Nevadans; (3) managing the concerns associated with changing an address to a new county; and (4) identifying a process that deals with the registration of ineligible applicants. By January 14, 2019, a 13-member working group convened to begin work on achieving these goals and to establish a timeline for the entire project.
The first item on the agenda was to acquire the necessary funding. Since the Nevada Legislature was not yet in session, the Interim Finance Committee (IFC) needed to sign off on any allocation of funds from the state’s Contingency Account, so the matter was taken up at the committee’s meeting on January 30, 2019. The IFC unanimously passed the motion to allocate the money. The Secretary of State received $234,320 to cover the costs of implementing automatic voter registration. The DMV received $84,000 for the 2019 fiscal year, which was used to hire a contracted programmer who worked on a way to transmit the voter information from the DMV to the Secretary of State and county election officials. Additionally, the DMV requested a one-shot appropriation of $87,000 for the 2020 fiscal year in anticipation of the programming costs that would continue on after June 30, 2019 (the end of the 2019 fiscal year).
Upon receiving the necessary funds, a potential completion date could finally be set, so Nevada lawmakers have slated automatic voter registration for January 2020. Wayne Thorley, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, has also gone on the record saying that the system will be “in place at the beginning of 2020.”
Another concrete step toward the execution of automatic voter registration was when Governor Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 345 into law in June of this year. The new law specifically addresses those individuals who want to opt-out of voter registration by providing them with a form to sign to decline. Furthermore, the law seeks to assuage the concerns surrounding ineligible applicants. Throughout this ongoing implementation process, the working group of state representatives has sought out advice from advocacy groups, like the ACLU and Mi Familia Vota, to prevent ineligible voters from being charged for unintentional election fraud. Under this new law, county clerks must review voter registration information sent to them by the DMV to ensure that each person meets all voting qualifications. If he or she does not satisfy the criteria, the clerk shall consider the application “incomplete” and not register the individual, which lessens the chance of potential fraud.
In just under a year, a lot of progress has been made on the automatic voter registration front. But, 2020 is fast-approaching so making sure the system is up and ready to go will truly be a sprint to the finish.