A newly proposed bill in Washington, D.C. would allow the city to automatically send mail-in ballots to all residents deemed eligible to vote, even if they aren’t registered.
According to the digital magazine Bolts, “the city would take information it collects when residents interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles [(DMV)] and other agencies to maintain a constantly-updating list of people who are ‘preapproved’ to vote,” with the only task left to the individuals listed being “to vote come election time.”
Under the proposed law, “as long as someone has provided certain documents, the city would verify and record them as eligible: This would pre-qualify them as voters, even when they’re not formally on voter rolls,” the Bolts report reads. “D.C. would then send people on this preapproved list a mail-in ballot for every election during the following two years. They would never need to proactively register … D.C. would also inform them that they can return a ballot or head to the polls to activate their registration.”
Introduced by D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, the bill is scheduled to have its first public hearing by the city’s legislative body on Friday. In a statement provided to Bolts, Allen defended the legislation by claiming that voter registration “has been used as a way to keep people from voting” and that it’s “a way to be a gatekeeper as to who you think should be able to vote.”
“Unlike other parts of the country where we’re seeing people try to restrict the ability of people to get to the polls and to vote … in D.C., we want everyone to be able to vote,” he added.
In 2016, D.C. adopted a “front-end” automatic voter registration (AVR) system, where residents are asked upfront by agencies such as the DMV whether they would like to be automatically registered to vote or opt out.
Alternatively, a “back-end” AVR system is where individuals “who provide documents that indicate that they are U.S. citizens are automatically registered to vote and they are not asked any further questions while at the public agency; they later receive a mailer at home, and they can return it if they wish to opt-out,” while those who “do nothing at all … remain registered to vote.”
States with “back-end” systems include Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska, among others.
While Allen’s proposed bill wouldn’t implement a “back-end” system in D.C. since it wouldn’t necessarily register people, Bolts concluded that “it’s guided by a similar principle that it’s really up to public authorities to review someone’s eligibility based on the information they’ve already shared.”
Other election-related pieces of legislation sponsored by Allen in recent years include a 2021 measure to institute permanent, universal mail-in voting, as well as a 2020 bill that granted incarcerated felons the ability to vote.