CARSON CITY — The Nevada Senate on Monday approved a citizen initiative to automatically register people to vote when they conduct certain transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The 12-9 vote was along party lines, with independent Sen. Patricia Farley of Las Vegas joining Democrats to approve the measure.
Democratic supporters said it would increase voter rolls in Nevada and engage more people in the election process. Republican opponents countered that the registration system works fine and that the initiative could lead to voter fraud.
The Automatic Voter Registration Initiative, or IP1, amends Nevada law to require the DMV to automatically transmit information to the secretary of state and county clerks to register people whenever they obtain, renew or change an address on a driver’s license or identification card at a DMV office.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Assistant Minority Leader Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he is not a conspiracy theorist who believes voter fraud is rampant.
“That does not mean, however, it does not exist,” he said.
Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said the initiative does not drastically alter the process at the DMV. Instead of having people affirm they want to vote, they would have to opt out of registering by checking a box.
She said a person’s information would then be forwarded to election officials to verify they are eligible to cast ballots in Nevada.
“The information we’re talking about … it already works in that fashion,” she said. “County election officials verify. … This initiative petition doesn’t change any of that.”
Identification cards are not the same as driver authorization cards available to people who cannot show legal status.
Kieckhefer countered that 21,676 licenses and identification cards have been issued in Nevada to green card holders, people who are in the country legally but are not able to vote. Of those, he said, more than 100 have filled out voter registration forms.
Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said that does not mean those people voted. He also said registering people at the DMV is more secure than having outside groups registering people in parking lots.
“I don’t see this as a partisan bill,” Atkinson said. “I think this should be about registering our citizens. The election departments will still verify those applications.”
Backers of the measure gathered enough signatures last year to put the issue to lawmakers.
TO THE GOVERNOR
The measure now goes to Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who can sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it. Democrats do not have the votes to override a veto.
If it becomes law, it will take effect in January 2018. If Sandoval vetoes it, it will go to voters on next year’s general election ballot. If voters approve it, it would take effect after the election results are canvassed by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Sandoval last week was noncommittal on what he would do. But he noted that the state has come to an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union to resolve a complaint filed last year over voter registration forms at the DMV and suggested that the initiative provisions were no longer necessary.