MONTPELIER — The Senate passed an election day registration bill Wednesday after defeating an amendment that would have required voters using the provision to provide voter identification.
The legislation, which passed on a voice vote, would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Under current law, a person who wants to cast a vote on Election Day must be registered to vote by the previous Wednesday.
Proponents said the bill will provide greater access to voting booths for Vermonters.
“I am extremely grateful to the Senate for taking up and passing Election Day voter registration with overwhelming support. The support showed by the vote indicates that the Senate appreciates that this is truly a voter rights issue,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday.
Franklin County Sen. Dustin Degree, a Republican, tried to amend the bill to require photo identification in order to register on the day of an election. He said the bill in question “doesn’t have any of the safe guards that other states do.”
According to Degree, nine of the 10 states that currently allow same day registration require a valid photo ID. He said six of the states have a provisional ballot process for potential voters that do not have the proper identification.
Degree said has “been convinced by the articles and the studies that have been done that say election day registration can be both effective and a safe way to enhance voter participation.” But additional safeguards to avoid fraud would be better, he said.
“My fear is that while we are citing wonderful studies that show the benefits of election day registration, we don’t have any of the safeguards that other states have. We have none of them,” Degree said.
Most of his colleagues in the Senate disagreed, rejecting the amendment on a 7 to 21.
Senate Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Jeanette White, D-Windham, said her committee was split on Degree’s proposal and did not take a formal position. White said she personally found that it created “two tiers of voters in Vermont,” including a “second level of voter who isn’t quite a full voter unless they can show the valid photo ID.”
Democratic Windham County Sen. Becca Balint said voter fraud is “extremely rare.” Laws requiring identification “are designed to restrict people from voting,” she said, and disproportionately impact the young, elderly, minorities and the poor.
“It’s critical that we ensure the integrity of our elections, but we should not undermine free and fair access to the ballot under the guise of voter fraud,” Balint said.
Degree’s fellow Republican, Sen. Diane Snelling of Chittenden County, call the amendment “well-intentioned but troubling.”
“It’s hard not to think about southern states that are trying to prevent people from voting,” she said. “I’m not saying this is that but it does remind me of it.”
Condos, following Wednesday’s votes, echoed many of the arguments made by senator’s against the amendment.
“Sen. Degree’s amendment would have changed the way we register voters — it would have created a second tier of registration just for Election Day that systematically targets students, new residents, the elderly, and Vermonters living in rural areas of the state. These Vermonters are fully eligible to vote but may not have the very specific forms of identification laid out in the amendment,” he said.
Julia Michel, a democracy advocate for VPIRG, hailed the bill’s passage Wednesday.
“With the Senate’s vote today it’s pretty clear they view the bigger problem being a lack of voter participation rather than unsubstantiated cases of fraud. VPIRG is thrilled. This is a good day for democracy,” she said.
The legislation now moves to the House for its consideration.