Editorial: Passage of Question 5 will do more harm than good

Question 5 — the Automatic Voter Registration Initiative — on the November ballot is a pointless and costly endeavor likely to do more harm than good.

The proposal would require the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to automatically send personal information to the registrar of voters so a person can be registered to vote when receiving a driver’s license or making a license change, unless the person affirmatively declines in writing.

It is pointless because the DMV already sends information to the registrar of voters if a person agrees. All Question 5 does is change the system from an “opt in” to an “opt out.” It is a distinction without a discernible difference.

The backers of the initiative argue this will make it more convenient to exercise the right to vote and even save money.

“Voting is a fundamental right,” the argument for passage reads. “It is our most important way to guarantee our rights and freedoms — and it’s a responsibility to be taken seriously by both the people and the government. Yet our outdated voter registration process makes it unnecessarily difficult for eligible Nevada citizens to have their voices heard and leaves our registration system vulnerable to errors. … It will reduce the risk of fraud and lower costs.”

In fact, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the initiative during the 2017 legislative session, saying, “it extinguishes a fundamental, individual choice — the right of eligible voters to decide for themselves whether they desire to apply to register to vote — forfeiting this basic decision to state government. … the core freedom of deciding whether one wishes to initiate voter registration belongs to the individual, not the government.”

His veto message also said the change “would create an unnecessary risk that people who are not qualified voters may unintentionally apply to vote, subjecting them to possible criminal prosecution, fines, and other legal action.”

As for lowering cost, the fiscal note for Question 5 says it would cost $221,000 to implement and more than $50,000 annually to maintain.

As for reducing errors, the California DMV, which has a similar automatic voter registration system, recently reported it sent 23,000 erroneous voter registrations.

The argument against passage of Question 5 points out, “The proposed ‘Opt Out’ system shifts the responsibility of registering to vote from the individual to the government. Nevada residents who do not want to be registered will have to affirmatively ‘Opt Out’ or have their names and addresses automatically added to voter rolls and become public information.”

It also notes there is no evidence this change would increase voter turnout.

There is no evidence this measure will accomplish anything other than increased opportunities for errors. We shouldn’t try to drag motorists kicking and screaming into the voting booth.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.