A driver’s license in the District may soon come with an added perk: automatic voter registration.
The spending plan advanced May 30 by the D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to a measure that will allow the names, addresses and party affiliation of adults who get their driver’s licenses at the city’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to be forwarded to the D.C. Board of Elections to be entered on its voter rolls.
Under the plan, District residents 18 and older will automatically be registered to vote when they get a driver’s license in the city.
In a tweet following the council’s first vote on the 2018 budget, Council member Charles Allen indicated that the city hoped to use the system soon, saying, “Automatic voter registration begins in the District of Columbia starting this fall thanks to the budget we passed this afternoon!”
Allen introduced the bill in 2015. It was approved unanimously by the Council last year, though the measure has not been funded until now.
According to estimates, the development and implementation of the system needed to collect and transfer voter information between the DMV and election board will cost $660,000 over a period of four years.
Under the budget plan, the board of elections would be able to hire two employees to run the system, and funding would be available to the DMV to complete an upgrade to transfer the data.
The new law will also lengthen the voter registration period. Under the law, the deadline will move from the current 30 days preceding a regularly scheduled election to 21 days. Voters will also be allowed to file a change of address on Election Day, even if for changes of ward.
Many Democrat politicians have touted automatic voter registration as a method to preserve voter access and to counter voter ID laws supported by some conservatives.
In a visit to the District’s Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast, civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. told residents that automatic voter registration was a necessary step for African-Americans residents to resist the many challenges of the gentrification the city is experiencing.
“You get a birth certificate when you are born, a death certificate when you die, and at age 18 you should be automatically registered to vote,” said Jackson, adding that automatic voter registration will help cities save money on the registration process and help protect people’s right to vote.
In the past year, lawmakers in 32 states have introduced bills for automatic voter registration of licensed drivers. If approved, D.C. would join eight other states with automatic voter registration including California, Oregon, Alaska, Georgia, West Virginia, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut.
The council will hold its final vote on the budget on June 13.