Election Surprise? Automatic Voter Registration Bill Fails On Senate Floor

A sweeping change to the voter registration process – designed to greatly expend the number of eligible voters who are registered to vote – was defeated on the Senate floor Thursday, lweaving the issue in doubt for the session. A reconsideration of the same bill, or a vote on a similar House Bill, both remain options for further Senate action.

SB 350 had been heavily amended by the Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs — the 36 page amendments effectively strike the original bill and replace it completely. The amended bill created an “opt out” system for many individuals who come into contact with the government through agencies including local Departments of Social Services and the Maryland Health Exchange. Floor questions about privacy, data security, administrative burdens and costs drove the concern with the bill.

The narrow vote (21-24) was on “second reader,” which is most often a procedural step before a final decision. Had the bill passed, it would have been reprinted to fully incorporate the amendments, and would have been before the Senate for a final “this reader” vote in the next day or so.

MACo had opposed SB 350 (along with other comparable proposals), citing the potential costs on local election boards. The fiscal note for the original bill suggested “substantial” local costs – but there has not been an official cost estimate for the amended bill.

HB 1007 has passed the House, and has similar goals to SB 350. Given the short the left in the session, action on the House bill may be the next focus should the Senate wish to continue to pursue broadened voter registration legislation.

Read more coverage in the Baltimore Sun.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties