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Could Automatic Voter Registration Become Law In Arizona?

About 75 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the November election last month in Arizona. But, that doesn’t take into account the number of eligible voters who are actually registered.

Add in that only about two-thirds of people who could vote register and, suddenly, voter-turnout numbers can seem pretty low. One way that some states are hoping to get more people to participate in elections is by automatically registering them to vote.

“Some states — Alabama, California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia — have created new laws that say anyone that’s eligible that’s in our motor-vehicle database will automatically be a registered voter, if they’re not already in the system,” according to Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics & Public Service at Arizona State University. "And then those people will get a notice, and they can decide to opt out of the system.”

Olivas said the process to register to vote now in Arizona is not as simple as it may sound, because we have a bifurcated voter-registration system. The Arizona voter-registration form doesn’t match the federal one.

“It’s very confusing,” Olivas said. “The requirements themselves have been changed over time, the form itself has changed over time.”

So, the intention of changing to an automatic voter system, Olivas said, is partially to make the process easier and remove some of the barriers to voting.

“A lot of first-time voters don’t understand that they have to fill out a form in order to vote or don’t know what the process is,” he said. “And so Election Day comes, and they’re caught off-guard because they didn’t go through this process before said deadline.”

Also, having the voter-registration system based on the state motor-vehicle system could lead to cleaner voter-registration rolls, he said. You’re required to change your address with the Motor Vehicle Department when you move, but people don’t often do that with their voter registration.

“And there’s also the idea that if more people are registered, more people will vote,” he said. But, it’s too soon in the states that have passed laws to create automatic voter registration to tell if it’s working, Olivas said.

There are also questions that people have about whether or not this is proper, he said. “Do we want government to be forcing people to be voters? And will it work?” he asked.

But, he said, something needs to be done about the low numbers of voter turnout and participation today, especially in local elections.

“Voter turnout and participation rates are declining over time for all age groups,” he said. “We should be very concerned with why fewer and fewer people are participating in the decisions that determine everything about how we live, how we do business, what our rights are and so forth.”

The problem, he thinks, is a lack of voter education. Civics classes that teach students how to make informed decisions about government have almost disappeared entirely since the 1950s, he said.

“We haven’t taught students and voters, really, how to be skillful navigators and actors within this system,” he said. “And, over time, we’ve done less and less of that.”

Colleges and universities are starting to fill that gap, but it’s a slow process, according to Olivas.

Just about every year in the state Legislature, a Democrat puts forth a bill that would allow for automatic voter registration in Arizona. But, they rarely get very far.

Olivas said that the way automatic voter registration could become law in Arizona would be through a ballot initiative that voters could approve, not through the state Legislature.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.