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Several Democratic lawmakers in Washington are pushing legislation that would automatically register people to vote once they reach the age of 18, a move critics say greatly heightens the risk of fraud and gives the government the power to make a decision that should be left up to each citizen.
According to the bill backed by Rep. John Lewis, R-Ga., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., all citizens would automatically be registered to vote based on motor vehicle records, public assistance information and other sources unless a person specifically refuses to be registered. The legislation would also likely include a federal mandate to allow same-day voter registration and extend the franchise to convicted felons.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is one of the leading voices opposed to the legislation. He told WND the goal of every state should be to conduct fair elections open to all eligible voters. He contends the changes being proposed by Lewis would inhibit that effort.
"One of the things we're charged with is running safe, accessible, fair elections, but a big part of that is making sure your voter rolls are secure and you only have folks that are eligible to be on the rolls actually be on the rolls. This is what my concern is with universal registration," Kemp said. "We have processes that we make people go through here in Georgia to make sure they are eligible and that they meet all the requirements before we ever put them on the roll. I just don't know that those safeguards would be in place with federal intervention."
Kemp said it is standard policy in Georgia to "trust but verify" anyone registering to vote or seeking other permission from the state.
"If they say they're a citizen, then we're going to verify that. And we do that with everyone before they go on the voter rolls. We do the same thing in Georgia before you get a driver's license," Kemp said. "I think it's just the smart thing to do. We've got a million different ways for people to register to vote."
Kemp said in his state many public agencies are required to have voter registration forms, as well as schools, libraries and even his own website.
He said the issue at hand is about much more than just voting.
"This is America. This is a country where we pride ourselves on people being able to make individual choices and having individual rights," Kemp said. "Some people don't want to be registered to vote. That's their right. If they don't want to take advantage of all we have to offer to be registered to vote, then they don't have to. But if they're going to, we want to make sure they meet all the requirements, where they're not taking away someone else's vote because they're on the rolls illegally."
Same-day registration is also a bad idea, according to Kemp. He said even with a registration deadline one month before the elections, one Georgia county still didn't have its rolls up to date. He believes allowing voters to register right before they vote is a prescription for chaos.
"They were entering people into the system the day before the election, and it was just a disaster. Their supplemental lists were not correct. (Voters) weren't showing up on these lists, and they were turned away," Kemp said. "I am certainly not a fan of same-day registration. I think it's hard for election officials to do the proper checks on individuals on the day we're holding an election. I think that just opens a can of worms for fraud in a big way."
While the merits of the bill can be debated, Kemp is also frustrated that this push is coming from Washington. He believes this should not play out at the federal level.
"It should be up to the states to decide whether they want to do that or not. In Georgia, if we want to have photo ID – and we do – then we ought to be able to do that," he said. "If other states don't want photo ID and they want to do same-day registration, then they should be able to do that. I don't think there should be a one-size-fits-all in elections. It really needs to reside with the states because we know best how to run them in a secure manner that's best for our state."