Senate Rejects Automatic Voter Registration

ANNAPOLIS (April 7, 2016)—The Maryland Senate Thursday rejected a bill to automatically register every eligible adult in the state to vote amid concerns about privacy and the possibility that non-citizens might get registered. The vote was 21-24, with seven Democrats joining Republicans in killing the measure.

The bill, SB350, the Universal Voter Registration Act, sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno D-Montgomery, would have required the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and social service agencies to provide the State Board of Elections with personal information about eligible adults so they could be registered. However, the bill also contained a provision allowing individuals who did not wish to be enrolled to opt out by notifying their local election board.

Sen. Manno said his bill would have made Marylanders lives easier by sparing them the hassles associated with registration.

"It basically eliminated this hoop that we've erected, that people have to jump through in order to be able exercise their right," Manno said. "If you're eligible to vote, you ought to be able to vote, government should get out of your way and that's what we're trying to do here. It simply removes the barrier to be able to get to vote."

Non-citizens voting

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, asked if the MVA is able to discern between citizens and noncitizens.

"Yes the MVA can determine citizenship," said the floor leader on the bill, Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's.

But Hough said, "I'm staring at a letter right here from the MVA that says the state cannot require an applicant to provide documentation of citizenship. The MVA says they cannot determine that, in fact, the MVA says all that they can determine is what's called 'lawful presence' which is not citizenship."

Pinsky said the MVA has already has safeguards in place that negate the need to ask whether or not someone is a citizen.

"They legally because of other laws can't ask that question per se, but what they do when people come and register—they ask for a birth certificate and other information which implicitly lets them know if someone is a citizen or not," Pinsky said.

Domestic violence victims could be found

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings. R-Baltimore and Harford, said domestic violence victims could possibly be identified by automatic voter registration. He asked Pinsky if those individuals, whose information is protected by a state program, could possibly be registered if they forget to notify their local election board that they do not wish to be registered.

"I understand that you guys did take the address confidentiality program that our Secretary of State's office has and put it into the bill, which is commendable, but not every abused spouse or stalked victim is in that program, correct?"

Pinsky said individuals who are not registered in that program could potentially be registered.

"If they're not registered by their local board based on the domestic violence language and the laws that protect their information and then they don't look at the mailings from the State Board of Elections—that could possibly happen," Pinsky said.

Government intrusion

Sen. Jim Brochin, a Towson Democrat, said the bill constitutes governmental overreach.

"People have the right to be left alone and one of the things that I always thought was great about this country that changed a lot since 9/11, is you had the right to be anonymous if you wanted to, you had the right to be left alone and not bothered by government and this is a direct intrusion," Brochin said.

In earlier debate, Brochin had objected that people could be registered as unaffiliated voters if they didn't check their mail.

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