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Congressional conferees agree on motor voter.

House and Senate conferees reached agreement on the so-called motor voter (HR 2) legislation last week, clearing the way for final action in the House and Senate as early as this week. President Clinton has stated he will sign the new legislation into law. House Democrats prevailed over the Senate on most issues, raising the possibility of a renewed filibuster in the Senate against the new, unfunded mandates which would be imposed upon local governments.

The action follows weeks of debate over Senate amendments to modify some of the unfunded mandates on state and local governments

and disagreement over making voter registration at local welfare and unemployment compensation offices voluntary instead of mandatory.

The compromise version set registration to vote at motor vehicle departments, but would also mandate states and local governments to provide for mail-in registration. It would require voter registration to be made available at local welfare and unemployment compensation offices.

The conference agreement does not provide federal reimbursement for unfunded, mandated costs on states and local governments. It 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.

The compromise would exempt states where there is either no voter registration requirement or where there is same-day voter registration for federal elections. For all other states and local governments, it 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.

For affected cities and towns, some of the greatest concerns involve:

* mailing addresses which differ from a person's municipality of residence;

* mandated unified forms for drivers' license applications and voter registration (leading to many duplications); * mandatory notification of the disposition of applications;

* restrictions on local registrars' ability to determine whether individuals are entitled to vote in municipal elections; and

* restrictions on removing persons from local voting lists.

Under the agreement, municipal governments would also be required to accept registration through the mail and would face new restrictions on 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.

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 signed into law, 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 list.

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:May 3, 1993
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