Motor Voter: DMV is weak link in push toward progress

In the backs of some state lawmakers’ minds last week, as they approved spending more money on West Virginia’s “motor voter” initiative, may have been concern about the plan’s weak link — the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“Motor voter” is the popular name for automatically registering people to vote when they receive or renew driver’s licenses, assuming they are eligible to vote. It is likely that within a few years, every state will have something similar.

West Virginia is among 16 states working toward a system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But progress here has been excruciatingly slow.

Last week, legislators approved $1.5 million in supplemental funds to help the state’s 55 county clerks implement “motor voter.” Funding, for technology enhancements, will go through West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office.

Warner’s office has accomplished excellent, important work during the past couple of years. It is nationally recognized for leadership in election security. There will be no problem with “motor voter” there.

And, to judge by the efficiency and eagerness with which county election officials have worked with Warner’s office on other matters, such as cleaning up voter registration rolls, the clerks will get their end of the new system up and running quickly.

But the DMV is another story. Initially, legislators intended “motor voter” to go into effect in July 2017. That did not happen because the DMV was not ready. A new deadline, this July 1, was set. That, too, will not happen.

Earlier this year, lawmakers grilled DMV officials over delays in using the driver’s license process to register voters. Their frustration was evident as they questioned then-DMV Commissioner Pat Reed, who had few answers.

The process was so mismanaged that Reed, who retired April 1, had to tell lawmakers her agency could not find a report on “motor voter” that was supposed to have been submitted Jan. 1.

So yes, the DMV is the weak link. Clearly, then, if “motor voter” is to be implemented effectively, lawmakers need to keep up the pressure on that agency. DMV officials should be questioned about progress regularly — and a zero-tolerance policy on foot-dragging will be appropriate.

COMMENTS