On March 21, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed legislation that would have automatically registered eligible voters when they sought services from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The veto made Sandoval the third Republican governor to sink automatic voter registration legislation ― and all three of them have seats that will be up for grabs in the next two years.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed similar legislation twice ― once in 2015 and again in 2016. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) also vetoed legislation in 2016. Christie, the most unpopular governor in the country, is term-limited and will not be on the ballot again this year. Sandoval will be term-limited out of office in 2018, while Rauner is up for re-election next year.
It’s not surprising that Republican governors in those states lack enthusiasm for automatic voter registration, which tends to benefit Democratic candidates. Hillary Clinton won all three of those states in the 2016 election, and Democrats see them as top targets for next year’s midterms. New Jersey will vote for a new governor this November, and Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, a Goldman Sachs banker who has endorsed automatic registration, is currently leading the polls.
The issue is also a priority for Democrats in states where they are looking to consolidate power in 2018. Thirty-eight Republican governorships are up for election next year, including six in states Clinton won last fall. Democrats hope that President Donald Trump’s poll numbers will remain low and help drag down the party’s candidates. In states like Washington, Democrats just need to win a small number of seats to get full control of the state legislature. While automatic voter registration may not be at the top of voters’ minds, Democrats will almost surely advance the issue anywhere they claim a governor’s house and legislature next year.