The Senate recently passed SB 7 which would see eligible New Hampshire residents automatically apply to register to vote when they visit the Division of Motor Vehicles to apply for a driver’s license, make a change to their license, or apply for a non-driver identification card.
A similar system has been implemented in five other states.
This bill is different than so-called “motor voter” laws, which give the DMV itself the authority to register voters. Under SB 7, the DMV would only pass along drivers’ information to election officials, who would then add drivers to the voter registration records.
SB 7 now proceeds to the House. If passed, it would take effect in 2021.
How it works
Residents applying for a driver’s license already have to present documentation proving their place of residence, age, and citizenship status – the same proof that is required to register to vote.
At the DMV, individuals who are qualified to vote in New Hampshire would see on the form that they are also being registered to vote, with an option for them to opt-out if they would rather not be registered. Those who do not check the ‘opt-out’ box would have their information shared with the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office, which would then add them to the state’s voter registration database.
The secretary of state would then follow up by sending newly-registered voters materials with the location of their polling place and information on how to affiliate with a political party.
The DMV will instruct anyone who is registering to vote through a driver’s license application within 30 days of an election to instead register directly with their town or city clerk, as current New Hampshire voter residency laws require presenting additional documentation if registering to vote close to election day.
If someone neglected to opt-out of voter registration, or later decided they wished to do so, they could ask their town or city clerk to have them removed from the list of registered voters.
Updates to the voter database
The bill also orders the DMV to give the secretary of state information about address and name changes, so that these can also be updated in voter registration records.
Expanding the program
The bill makes provisions for the secretary of state to gradually expand this voter registration program to any other state agencies that collect documents that would also constitute evidence of eligibility to vote.
In favor of SB 7
Supporters of the change argue that it will increase voter registration in New Hampshire and also reduce the number of residents who wait until election day to register. This would result in shorter wait times at the polls. They point out that the cost of implementing the technical upgrades would be covered by federal grant money.
Regular transfer of information from the DMV to the secretary of state would also keep voter registration records more up-to-date, making voter lists more accurate and increasing the security of elections.
Questions and concerns
Opponents worry about the potential for confusion and longer lines at the already-understaffed DMV. Though the DMV would not actually be registering voters, just transferring information to the secretary of state’s office, they point out the likelihood that applicants might ask additional questions about the process which DMV workers would need to answer.
Others point out that voter registration rates in New Hampshire are already very high, at roughly 96% of the voting-eligible population. They also hold that local supervisors of the checklist are the ones best qualified to assess an individual’s eligibility to vote, and that this is best done in person.