LINCOLN — A measure to implement automatic voter registration in Nebraska faced opposition Thursday from the state’s chief election official and head of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.

Allowing automatic voter registration would flood the voter registration system with people who are ineligible or already registered, said Colleen Byelick, general counsel and chief deputy for the Secretary of State’s Office.

DMV Director Rhonda Lahm argued that not everyone who qualifies for a driver’s license or state ID card is eligible to vote, including people under 18 and those who are not U.S. citizens.

Of the roughly 500,000 driver’s licenses and state ID cards processed each year, about 100,000 applicants indicate they’d like to register to vote, too.

“We’re talking about 400,000 (additional) records flowing into our voter registration system,” said Byelick, who testified against the bill on behalf of Secretary of State John Gale.

State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said his bill would modernize elections and make them more accessible.

Current state law allows people to register to vote through the DMV, but they must opt in.

Under Legislative Bill 290, Nebraskans applying for or renewing a driver’s license or state ID card would have to opt out of voter registration.

The change also would apply to those applying for or renewing applications for public assistance programs through the Nebraska Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

A legislative fiscal note put the cost of the bill at $200,000 next year.

Six states and the District of Columbia have passed similar measures. Oregon, the first state to pass such legislation, saw record voter turnout in 2016 as a result, Vargas said.

Vargas, with the support of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, believes Nebraska should follow suit.

“I think this is one of those instances where we’re trying to remove barriers to exercise the right to vote,” he told members of the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The committee took no action.

emily.nohr@owh.com, 402-473-9581

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