Several States Debating Election Day Registration to Expand Access to the Polls
by Project Vote, Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 11:20:41 AM EST
Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog
Weekly Voting Rights News Update
by Erin Ferns
Election Day Registration has been the subject of election reform debates for decades and the year following one of the most historic presidential elections makes no exception. As lawmakers in at least 16 states hope to expand access to voter registration and effectively increase voter participation, skeptics of such reforms raise the fear of voter fraud. Today, 10 states successfully practice Same-Day Registration (either on Election Day or during an early voting period), with above-average turnout rates and no reported problems with voter fraud. For those states considering EDR, the decision to efficiently expand access to democracy should be clear.
Since the 1970s, 10 states have implemented Same-Day Registration with average turnout rates that are 10-12 percentage points higher than national averages, according to research and public policy group, Demos. Despite the growing acceptance of EDR across the country and its smooth implementation for 35 years there is still stiff resistance to adopting such policies in a majority of states.
After years of introducing and failing to pass EDR bills, New Mexico's House committee finally approved a bill providing for registration and voting both during the early voting period and on Election Day. However, this bill, HB 52, may not survive in its current form if EDR supporters cave to voter fraud hysterics raised by state Republicans who claim being on the border raises vulnerability, despite the fact that there is no history of voter fraud in the state, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The voter fraud argument against EDR is not unique to New Mexico; opponents of EDR measures frequently claim that the possibility of voter fraud is heightened when voters are allowed to register and vote at the same time. However, a study on voter fraud in EDR states found only 10 incidents of voter fraud in six EDR states over the course of three election cycles (1999-2005). "Of these, there was only one case of voter impersonation at the polls," in which a 17-year-old boy voted on behalf of his father, an instance unrelated to EDR, according to a 2007 Demos report.
The other isolated voter fraud problems that led to federal investigation "were directly attributable to clerical errors, poll worker shortages and incompetence, not any organized scheme or intent on the part of voters to scam the system," according to the report.
If administered efficiently, residents who register at the polls are required to substantiate their residency and the entire registration process is carried out under the supervision of an elections official on the same day, limiting the chance for errors or fraud.
"Advocates of same-day voting say it increases voter participation and makes it easier for those who have moved from another state," the New Mexican reports. "William Mee of Voter Services Coalition told the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee that many people are disenfranchised by failing to register in time."
Failure to register in time is not just an issue of "laziness" or last-minute political interest. Other issues such as clerical errors, voter purges, and high mobility rates are often reason for voters to be unknowingly left off of voter rolls. EDR would help short-circuit purge and suppression attempts by allowing these individuals a "fail-safe" opportunity to correct registration errors and increase their voter turnout rates.
Allowing citizens to register and vote on Election Day would also ameliorate issues surrounding provisional balloting, an option that is often utilized by underrepresented voters who are more likely to encounter registration problems. Provisional ballot counting procedures vary from state to state, rendering many legitimate ballots ineligible if not cast within the correct county or even precinct. For example, acceptance rates of provisional ballots in 2004 varied from 96 percent in Alaska to just four percent in Delaware, according to a 2006 Project Vote report.
As if the lack of voter fraud and the elimination of the risk of voter disenfranchisement wasn't enough to prove EDR is a viable and effective election reform, Patty O'Connor, an election official from long-time EDR state, Minnesota "told the [N.M. House] committee that it has worked well in her state," the New Mexican reports. Based on figures from the United States Elections Project, Minnesota's voter turnout rate exceeded the national average by at least 16 percentage points in 2008.
Despite being met with resistance from the GOP, the New Mexico bill is supported by the County Clerks Association "if the registration is limited to early voting." Although HB 52 sponsor, (Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe) supports this idea, he is being "urged...to keep Election Day registration in the bill" by committee chairwoman Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque. The bill is currently in the House Voters and Elections Committee.
Case Study: Election Day Registration. electionline.org. February 2007.
In Other News:
Exemption removed from voter ID bill - Associated Press
JACKSON - The Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate reversed course Wednesday on part of an election bill by saying that all voters, not just those below retirement age, would have to show photo identification at the polls.
Voter ID bill would make Minnesota laws most restictive in the nation - The Minnesota Independent
House Republicans are urging passage of a bill to require every Minnesotan to have a government-issued photo identification in order to vote in the state. The bill (HF 57) introduced by Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, would make Minnesota's voting laws among the most restrictive in the nation.
ACLU attacks voter registration bill - Associated Press
ATLANTA - A bill introduced in the state Senate that would require proof of citizenship when you register to vote is under attack.
Tags: disenfranchisement, election day registration, election integrity, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Project Vote, proof of citizenship, voter id, voter participation, Voting Rights (all tags)