CONYERS — With residents automatically being registered to vote when they apply for new or renewed driver’s licenses at the Georgia Department of Driver Services, election offices are getting a lot of duplicate registrations.
According to Rockdale County Elections Supervisor Cynthia Willingham, from April 9 to May 7, Rockdale County processed 2,190 voter applications, with 1,126 of them being duplicate applications, meaning those voters were already registered in Rockdale.
“Each month, we see these duplicate numbers get pretty large,” said Willingham. “For April through May, the duplicate registrations were 51 percent of our total applications that we had to process.”
Georgia began automatically registering voters through the DDS in September 2016. The state made it the default option on every driver’s license form. Everyone is registered unless they check a box to opt out of being registered to vote. Before the switch, voters had to opt in.
The automatic registration process has registered more than 681,000 new voters, with the state now having a record high 7 million registered voters.
At the May meeting of the Rockdale County Board of Elections, Willingham said the new way of registering voters isn’t a bad thing and added that the state is working on the procedure where counties won’t have to process the applications because they will be automatically processed, since the applications are received electronically.
But board member Karen James noted it can be confusing.
“I recently renewed my license and they asked me if I wanted to register to vote and I said ‘No,’” she said, “but it seemed like the way the question was, it was a little confusing.”
“It is a little check box for you to remove the check mark if you don’t want to be registered to vote. Most people don’t read it; they just leave the check mark there,” she said.
She added that the downside to the automatic registration is having to weed out not only duplicate registrations, but also registrations from people not allowed to vote.
“If you are a convicted felon and can’t vote, or if you are not a citizen of the United States and not allowed to register to vote, and you get some form of license, it will automatically register those people to vote,” she said. “So it comes back to where the state has to investigate those people and they can honestly say they didn’t know they were registering to vote; they were just getting their licenses.”
Willingham also advised the board that as of May 17, Rockdale County has 61,480 active voters and 4,792 inactive voters, for a total of 66,222 voters.