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Virginia Rolls Out Voter Registration Modernization at DMV

By Tim Harper

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is nearing completion of a multi-year, bipartisan effort to modernize the voter registration process across the state—a major recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), whose work BPC is continuing.

“The Commission strongly recommends that states … adopt procedures that lead to the seamless integration of data between DMVs and election offices.”

 Report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced on July 7 that all 74 DMV offices and five mobile units across the state are rolling out the new system, which allows customers to electronically register to vote while at the DMV and to update their address information online. “This new innovation is a great example of government using technology to serve taxpayers better and make it easier to participate in our elections,” said McAuliffe, speaking at the announcement. “By streamlining the voter application process at the DMV we will help Virginians to get in and out of customer service centers faster and give DMV employees more time to focus on customers, rather than processing stacks of paper applications. I want to thank the teams at the Virginia DMV and the Department of Elections who worked hard to enhance the experience they offer taxpayers while conserving government resources in the process.”

The enhancements will bring significant efficiencies, cost savings, and accuracy to the registration process. Each year, the Virginia DMV sorts, processes, and mails 500,000 voter registration forms and sends them to election officials across the state. The new system will electronically transmit these registrations to state and local election officials, significantly decreasing the complexity and time required under the previous system.

The effort to modernize the voting process at the DMV, and to set up the new change of address portal online began in 2012 at the request of then-Secretary of Elections and current BPC Fellow Donald Palmer and Deputy Secretary Justin Riemer.

Then-Del. David Ramadan, a Loudoun County Republican, introduced the enabling legislation in the form of House Bill 1007. The legislation attracted bipartisan support, unanimously passed the Republican-controlled legislature, and was signed by then-Governor Robert McDonnell.

This week, Ramadan noted the historic nature of the legislation that envisioned a fundamental upgrade of the registration process. “I am honored to have authored legislation which allowed the Commonwealth of Virginia to implement online voter registration, to fully participate in national voter registration data-sharing programs, and upgrade to electronic registration processes at the Department of Motor Vehicles for the benefit of citizens,” he said.

The modernization of the voter registration process at DMVs across the country was a major recommendation by the PCEA to improve the voting experience for all Americans. In its report, the PCEA recommended that states “should seamlessly integrate voter data acquired through the Department of Motor Vehicles with their statewide voter registration lists.”

“As a critical actor in the creation and maintenance of each state’s voter registration file, the DMV can also contribute to the degree of orderliness and efficiency of operation in each community’s polling places on Election Day.”

 Report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

The PCEA highlighted several key benefits of integrating the DMV’s voter data with the statewide voter registration list. For instance, improving the accuracy of the voter rolls by ensuring new registration information is shared in real-time. The commission further noted that an improperly functioning DMV and inaccurate registration data can often lead to Election Day confusion and congestion in the polling place. When poll workers cannot find a voter or confirm their current address in the registration list, check-in is slowed, lines can form, and the voter may have to cast a provisional ballot.

Virginia has made major strides forward in updating and modernizing its voter registration system. BPC and the PCEA will continue to work to implement these important reforms.

KEYWORDS: DONALD PALMER, PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON ELECTION ADMINISTRATION, TERRY MCAULIFFE