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"Motor voter" mandate goes to full Senate.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee last week voted 7-5 to pass and send to the full Senate motor voter legislation (HR 2), which would permit citizens to register to vote at motor vehicle departments, but would also mandate states and local governments to prrovide for mail-in registration. The Committee rejected efforts to make the program voluntary and provide federal reimbursement for unfunded, mandated costs on states and local governments.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (RKy) indicated a major effort would be led by Senate Republicans to amend the bill to provide incentives of grants to encourage voluntary participation by states and local governments. NLC supports voluntary participation or federal funding to compensate unfunded federal mandates.

The full Senate could take the bill up as early as this week. President Clinton, in his address to the joint session of Congress on February 17, urged prompt action on the measure.

The bill would mandate states and local governments to set up procedures to register voters and mandate changes in the way most cities and towns maintain lists of eligible voters effective January 1, 1995. Former President Bush vetoed nearly identical legislation last year.

Under the bill, state and municipal governments would be required to provide registration in person at many offces, such as libraries and schools.

Municipal governments would also be required to accept registration through the mail and would be prohibited from removing a voter's name from the registration list for failing to vote. It would mandate cities and towns to allow a voter who has moved, but not notified the registrar, to vote at either the new or old polling place. And it would mandate states and local governments, once every four years to either mail a nonforwardable registration card to every voter who did not vote in the most recent election, or to obtain from licensed vendors information about whether a voter has changed address. Depending upon whether a voter has moved within the city or to another area, the state or local government would then be mandated to send either verification of registration or notice of removal.

Because the federal legislation conflicts with many state laws, Vermont cities and towns are concerned it could end up requiting the maintenance of two separate voter registration policies.

Failure to comply with the mandates in the act would make cities and towns and municipal officials liable to individual suits.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill, if enacted, would cost states and local governments $20 to $25 million per year for the first five years, and an initial start-up cost of $60 to $70 million to computerize local registration lists.

CBO reported that few states and local governments currently comply with all the mandates proposed by the legislation, although 27 states have some form of motor voter laws.
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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