Among the ballot measures still simmering in the Secretary of State’s “potential” pot is Drey Samuelson’s proposal for automatic voter registration and voting by mail. The proposed initiative would register a voter with no party affiliation any citizen who applies for a driver’s license or state ID. Citizens would be able to choose a party affiliation or opt out of registration. The initiative would also allow county commissions to close physical polling places and instead mail ballots to everyone on the voter roll twenty days before the election. Voters could return completed ballots to the county auditor in person, at ballot dropoff facilities, or by mail, but for their votes to count, ballots would have to be in the auditor’s hands by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Oregon conducts all elections by mail and automatically registers voters. Oregon voters approved voting by mail in 1998. Over the past two decades, Oregon has seen a slight increase in its already high voter turnout and some cost savings.
Oregon adopted automatic voter registration in 2015. In its first trial in the 2016 election, the new law registered over 272,000 new voters, of whom more than 98,000 voted. Those new voters were more likely to be younger, not quite as rich or educated as other voters, and more racially diverse. While voter turnout nationwide increased 1.6 percentage points in 2016 over 2012, turnout in Oregon jumped four percentage points, even though the presidential campaigns spent nothing on TV or radio ads in Oregon last year. The Center for American Progress says automatic voter registration is good for democracy:
The main finding of this analysis is clear: by a variety of measures, AVR was successful in improving registration and voting in Oregon and is a reform that ought to be pursued in other states. AVR makes state registration systems more accurate, efficient, and cost-effective, and the data here demonstrate that it can increase the level of participation in a state’s elections. It provides more citizens with an opportunity to use their voices in America’s democracy [Rob Griffin et al., “Who Votes with Automatic Voter Reigstration?” Center for American Progress, 2017.06.07].
Attorney General Marty Jackley has at least two more weeks to compose his explanation for the vote-by-mail/automatic-voter-registration measure. If Samuelson decides to pursue it, this initiative could improve voter participation in South Dakota. (Now if Drey and I could just figure out an efficient way to sign and submit initiative petitions by mail….)