The Maryland Senate on Thursday killed a bill that would have automatically registered people to vote when getting their driver's license.
Some senators, mainly Republicans, had raised concerns that non-citizens wouldn't be weeded out of the voter rolls, because they can receive driver's licenses. Concerns also were raised that domestic violence victims or people who want to keep their identity as private as possible would be automatically on voting databases.
In a rare maneuver, opponents asked for a roll call vote on adopting the report on the bill from the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Usually committee reports are adopted without a recorded vote. The vote was 21-24, killing the bill.
Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill, defended the measure, saying it would make it easier for Marylanders to vote.
"Government should get out of your way and that's what you're doing here," Manno said.
As introduced, the Universal Voter Registration Act would have required the Motor Vehicle Administration and social services agencies to send information about individuals to elections officials. The individual would be notified that they're being registered to vote and given the opportunity to select a political party affiliation or to decline to be registered. Those who don't pick a party would be registered as an unaffiliated voter.
Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican, said the bill would have been more palatable if it allowed people an easier path to opt-in to registering to vote, instead of forcing them to opt out.
"We're making them join the voter rolls whether they want to or not," he said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who said he voted for the bill to support his committee leaders, said the domestic violence argument was "very important" to the bill's defeat. He said that even though the bill was heavily modified, senators still couldn't accept it.
"People don't like government intruding into private lives," he said.
Miller said another factor that may have led to the bill's defeat was political realism.
"Democrats realized that if they passed it, and the governor vetoes it, there weren't going to be the votes to override," he said.