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Senate rejects funding motor voter mandate.

The Senate last week rejected 55-41 an amendment by Sen. Don Nikles (R-Okla.) to require the federal government to pay or compensate cities and towns before imposing new voter registration mandates on state and local governments.

Before the vote, Nickles told his colleagues, "We should not be placing an expensive mandate on the state and local governments to implement this registration procedure without paying for it."

The Senate then voted 61-38 to pass and send to the House the NLC-opposed S 250, the so-called "motor-voter" legislation, which 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, 1994.

The House passed similar legislation in 1990 and is expected to move quickly on similar legislation, HR 4366, this year. The administration is opposed to the legislation, although it has not indicated whether the President would veto it or not.

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.

Under the Senate bill, state and municipal governments would be required to accept voter registrations from citizens when they apply for a driver's license or other public certificate. It would require local governments to provide registration in person at many offices, 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 had moved, but not notified the registrar, to vote at either the new or old polling place.

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

In offering his amendment, Nickles told the Senate:

"This amendment simply says that this act shall not become effective until Congress authorizes and appropriates money to cover the costs incurred by states and localities as estimated by those local communities in working with the Rules Committees in the House and Senate."

CBO reported that few states and local governments currently employ all the mandates proposed by the legislation, although 27 states have some form of motor voter laws. Those laws have increased voter registration in Minnesota, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, and Maine; but have had only marginal impact in the other states--some of which have actually realized declines in voter participation.
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
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