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Maryland on Verge of Becoming 11th State to Win Automatic Voter Registration

"A profound step forward in expanding access to the ballot"

voting booths

Maryland could become the 11th state to enact automatic voter registration. (Frederic Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The Maryland legislature on Wednesday sent a bill to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's desk in hopes of becoming the 11th state to automatically register all eligible citizens to vote when they interact with state agencies.

"Creating an automatic registration program that links voting to everyday activities, like getting a driver's license or collecting health benefits, ensures greater voter participation which is the essential ingredient for any thriving democracy."
—state Sen. Will C. Smith Jr.

The Secure and Accessible Registration Act (S.B.1048/H.B.152) would automatically register eligible voters who have official interactions with the state's Motor Vehicle Administration, healthcare exchange, or social services offices.

The bill was sponsored by state Delegate Eric Leudtke and Sen. Will C. Smith Jr., who said that with its passage, "Maryland has taken a profound step forward in expanding access to the ballot."

"Creating an automatic registration program that links voting to everyday activities, like getting a driver's license or collecting health benefits," Smith added, "ensures greater voter participation which is the essential ingredient for any thriving democracy."

An "ecstatic" Luedtke noted that the bill's success was the result of "four years of extraordinary work by a diverse coalition of legislators and advocates" who were determined to make Maryland "a national leader on breaking down barriers to voting."

The lawmakers and advocacy groups who pushed for the bill called on Hogan—who has not yet publicly weighed in—to urgently sign it into law.

"Maryland's move today is further proof that the momentum for automatic voter registration continues," observed Natalie E. Tennant, manager for state advocacy at the Brennan Center for Justice. "We urge Governor Hogan to sign the bill and not only expand access to voting, but make the process more practical and efficient in his state."

If the governor neglects to sign bill, the legislature is well positioned to override his veto.

The legislative victory came after state lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment on Monday to legalize same-day voter registration. The amendment will only take effect if it receives public approval as a ballot item in November.

Common Cause Maryland acting director Damon Effingham said the two measures "show Maryland's dedication to the foundational right to vote, and the broad support for protecting and expanding that right to all who are eligible."

These moves in Maryland come as more than a dozen other states are considering implementing similar programs, according to the Brennan Center. Amid renewed calls for other states to move forward with their proposals, Leudtke and others were quick to point to Maryland's bill as a model, because it is broader than some other registration measures that 10 states and D.C. have enacted in recent years.

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