Vermont will allow voters to cast ballots the same day they register to vote, effective January 2017. It used to be that voters would need to register close to a week before casting a ballot.
“For the greatest democracy in the world, the number of people who vote in elections is too low, and it hurts our democracy because it's so low,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt.
Shumlin authorized the so-called same-day voter registration law Monday in Montpelier, making Vermont the fourteenth state to have such a law. Other states that allow same-day voter registration include New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Shumlin said same-day registration could increase voter turnout. He cited data from the public policy group Demos, which said voter turnout is about 10 percent higher in states with same-day voter registration.
The turnout for last November's state elections in Vermont was among the most dismal in state history.
Clerks in cities and towns in Vermont will not need to adapt to the new rule in time for next year’s presidential primary, or even in time for the general election in November. It doesn’t take effect until January of 2017.
“I would have liked to have seen it go into effect in 2016,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a democrat.
Condos explained the delay is because many clerks worried about getting swamped in a presidential election year, during which the state will also be updating its election reporting technology.
“We’re looking at this as a long-term improvement, not a short-term one,” Condos said of same-day voter registration. “Five years from now, people are going to be asking why we didn’t do this sooner.”
Montpelier clerk John Odum, who supported the change and said, for him, it would have been easy to implement in time for the 2016 elections, offered an explanation for some clerks’ initial opposition to launching the change.
“Every clerk has a different workflow, and I think the delay is respecting that reality,” Odum said, noting that the delay was a compromise that paved the way for more support from town clerks across the state.
Odum said he is certain the change will be good for democracy. “It's going to be terrific,” he predicted.
Condos, Shumlin, and other state leaders downplayed the risks of voter fraud under the new rule, saying eligible people being denied the opportunity to vote is a greater threat to the Constitution.