Raleigh News & Observer
By Lynice Williams and J. Mijin Cha
May 3, 2007
You can pay your credit card bill online the day that it is due. You can book last-minute travel for holidays. You can even file your taxes up until April 15th. But, in North Carolina, you cannot vote unless you register almost one month before Election Day. Something is fundamentally wrong in our democracy when people who want to vote but miss an arbitrary deadline are shutout of our democratic process.
Our voter turnout rate is among the lowest in the nation. Less than 1/3 of our eligible voters came to the polls. Over one million of our citizens are not registered to vote, half of which are under the age of 25. This is unacceptable and we need to fix it. Right now, there is a measure before the North Carolina Senate, HB 91, that would help increase voter turnout and allow for “one-stop”? registering and voting during the early voting period. We’ve already shown our strong commitment to democracy by adopting an early voting system. This new measure would just remove an additional barrier and let people register when they vote.
Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming all allow their voters to register and vote on the same day. Just a few weeks ago, Iowa’s governor signed their same-day registration bill into law. Same day registration is a politically neutral idea- in fact, more “red”? states than “blue”? states have adopted it.
It is also undeniably successful. The average voter turnout in states with same-day registration is almost 12 percentage points higher than the average turnout in states without same-day registration. Minnesota, which was the first state to adopt same-day registration, has the highest voter turnout rate in the country. This past election, 71 percent of their eligible youth turned out to vote, due in part to the young voters ability to register and vote on Election Day.
Currently in North Carolina, voter registration closes 25 days before an election- almost a full month before Election Day. However, many people only become interested in issues and candidates closer to Election Day when the candidates and issues receive the most attention. Allowing people to register and vote on the same day will allow these individuals to take part in our democratic process. HB 91 would let people register and vote during the early voting period, which ends the Saturday before Election Day.
When North Carolina implemented an early voting system, there was also a lot of vocal opposition to the idea and claims that it would compromise the voting process. However, the early voting system has proven to be very successful, with 55 percent of the voting public opting to vote early in the 2004 elections. Now, we have an opportunity to add to this success with one-stop registration and voting.
Contrary to what some opponents may argue, there is absolutely no evidence that same-day registration increases voter fraud. Minnesota has had same day registration for over 30 years, including way back before registration databases were computerized, and they have never had a problem with voter fraud.
In fact, same day registration helps fight voter fraud. When someone registers at the polling place, a trained individual can oversee the process and make sure that the registration is valid. As an added protection, the measure before the senate makes voter fraud a felony. In fact, illegally registering and voting commits two felonies and is a stiff penalty for trying to illegally vote
Giving people more time and ability to register shows our commitment to democracy. Allowing same day registration will lead us down the path to increased voter turnout, and increased participation in our great state.
Lynice Williams is Executive Director of North Carolina Fair Share, dedicated to working for poor and work poor North Carolinans. NC Fair Share is the founding organization of the Same Day Registration Coalition
J. Mijin Cha is a Policy Specialist with the Progressive States Network.