D.C. Council member Charles Allen wants to make sure that all District of Columbia residents have the chance to register to vote for future elections. So he is working on a way they can do it at a heavily used city government agency.

Charles Allen

Charles Allen represents Ward 6 on the D.C. Council

Allen, a Democrat representing Ward 6, is the author of “The Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act of 2015,” which automatically registers residents to vote when they fill out an application for identification at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Allen said this legislation, if it becomes law, will make it easier for District residents to have the chance to cast a ballot.

“I introduced this bill to reduce obstacles to voter registration and increase participation in our elections,” the council member said. “At a time when some states and elected leaders seem more interested in finding ways to block people from voting, I am proud that the District of Columbia is moving in the opposite direction to automatically enfranchise residents. This bill puts D.C. on the leading edge nationally of what President Obama recently said should become ‘the new norm across America’.”

The bill creates a process for the D.C. Board of Elections to accept electronic registration information from the DMV, streamline the user experience, and improve the accuracy of information on city voter rolls. The legislation would also allow registered voters to change their address on Election Day at their new polling site.

Presently, when a person is involved with the DMV, they are given the option to register to vote. Allen’s legislation would stipulate that if one didn’t want to register to vote, they would have to tell the DMV staffer that.

In the District, there are 448,718 registered voters, according to statistics compiled by the D.C. Board of Elections. Of that number, 76.58 percent of those are Democrats while 6.23 percent are Republicans, and 15.98 percent are registered as independents.

The bill recently passed the Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). When the bill was first introduced by Allen in May 2015, it was co-introduced by D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

Allen hopes his colleagues will consider the bill before the year ends.

Shelia Bunn, a political activist who ran in the April 2015 special election for the Ward 8 seat, told the AFRO she favors the bill. “It makes it simple for everyone to register to vote,” Bunn said. “It insures that people are registered and that they can play a role in determining through the vote how the city is run.”

If passed into law, the District would join states like Oregon, California, Vermont, West Virginia, and Connecticut in making automatic voter registration the law. Allen noted that since Connecticut initiated automatic voter registration in August, the one month total of new DMV voter registrations exceeded the previous three years of DMV-based registration combined.

However, not all District residents embrace Allen’s bill. Ralph Chittams Sr., senior vice chairman of the D.C. Republican Party, is uncomfortable with automatic voter registration. “Having a driver’s license in the District of Columbia doesn’t entitle a person to vote,” Chittams told the AFRO, noting that non-citizens get driver’s licenses also. “Only U.S. citizens can vote in the District of Columbia. What will stop non-citizens from registering to vote?

“I think Allen’s bill will open up the District’s electoral process to voter fraud. Automatic voter registration sounds great in theory but we have to maintain the integrity of our electoral system. The DMV shouldn’t be used as a voting mechanism.”

Jacqueline Kinlow is a well-known political activist in the District and takes exception to Chittams’s claims. “I do believe that it should be an option for people at the DMV,” Kinlow told the AFRO. “Other jurisdictions have that. You don’t have to register to vote that way if you don’t want to.”

Kinlow said that concerns about non-citizens registering to vote our unfounded, noting that the legislation applies only to citizens. She said Allen’s bill is ultimately good for the District. “A lot of people don’t register to vote in the traditional way because they don’t have access to voter registration cards or don’t understand the process of registering electronically,” she said. “Registering through the DMV will make the process easier for people.”