Nearly 95% of Georgians are registered to vote, thanks to thoughtful DMV forms
Across America, most state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) are places of dread, characterized by long lines, endless forms, and oftentimes less-than-friendly (and less-than-urgent) "customer service" agents. And while Georgia's DMV offices may still look like most others across the United States, there's one very important difference in the way The Peach State approaches granting driver's licenses: applicants are automatically registered to vote.
Such a small change to such a basic form has had tremendous impact on Georgia's political landscape. When the policy took effect in September 2016, the statewide voter registration rate was 76%. For the 2020 election cycle, the voter registration rate jumped to 95%. According to data from the Election Assistance Commission, 67% of the new registrations came from voters being automatically "opted-in" when obtaining a driver's license. Prior to the change, residents would have to manually request to be registered as a voter. Now, if a driver in Georgia does not want to vote, that individual will have to manually "opt-out" of voter registration.
Although no conclusive proof exists, there is an argument to be made that Georgia's automatic voter registration contributed to the state's change from red to blue during last year's presidential election cycle. The voter engagement work of Democratic operative Stacy Abrams surely impacted the shift in the state as well, but it is difficult to deny that the seismic political shift in Georgia was due, at least in part, to the DMV's automatic registrations. And the numbers do not lie.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there were 7.2 million active registered voters in Georgia during last November's election, leaving just 387,000 unregistered age-eligible voters, many of whom were ineligible because of incarceration, felony convictions, or other legal matters that strip away voting rights. The paper also reports that , "over 5 million voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, a turnout rate of 66% of the state’s citizen voting age population. The national average for turnout was 68%,"
As states across the nation serve as battlefields for voting rights and voter protections, Georgie's innovative approach to getting its citizens involved will certainly serve as a marker of what is possible when a simple, yet effective change is implemented in public services.