It is time for the states to start taking the primary responsibility
registering voters and maintaining those registrations as voters'
information and addresses change. Never has that been more clear than
after the recent battles over voter registration with conservatives
claiming voter fraud and progressives battling voter registration
barriers. Furthermore, the recent implementation of state-wide voter
databases created an infrastructure that empowers policymakers to
remove the current burden on voters and move toward a twenty-first
century voting system that facilitates participation.
There are a diversity of methods
for moving toward a more proactive voter registration
system. The ultimate goal is a system that reaches every eligible
voter, yet there are also a number of incremental steps that make
positive change a realistic goal in almost every state. Components of such a system could include:
Government Databases:States can achieve near-universal
registration by actively registering every citizen for whom sufficient records
exist in state agency databases. This involves setting up a
process for transferring the pertinant information from agency records to the state
election administrator, verifying the information, adding them to the voter rolls, and giving notice and a
chance to amend the registration to voters.
New York lawmakers introduced a bill in 2007 that would direct the State Board of Elections to register every resident by using motor vehicle and tax records.
Extending NVRA: While the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)
requires that voter registration be offered at motor vehicle, public assistance
and other state agencies, many states are in poor compliance and this is an area where huge improvement can be made quickly and cheaply. States with good compliance can easily go several steps further.
First by increasing the number of agencies providing voter registration, including schools, and also by incorporating voter registration directly into the process of submitting personal
information to a government agency. Allowing the information to be used for registration if the person checks off that they are eligible and choose to register. Automatic
registration builds on the NVRA model to actively bring people onto the
Portable Registration: Many people who were once registered are
unaware that their registration lapsed due to a move or change in their
personal information such as a name change. Using government data on
citizens, states can maintain registrations automatically by updating voter
rolls when voter information changes.
These steps would help thousands of voters maintain their registrations.
When implementing this reform, though, legislators must also insist on
best practices safeguards which ensure that voters maintain control of where
they are registered and require verification of an address change from more
than one source.
No state is
currently taking full advantage of the resources at their disposal to maintain
registrations when voters move (Oregon tracks changes, but their job is straghtforward because of the state's mail ballot elections). However, Minnesota took an important first step in 2008 when they passed HB
1546, a law to establish automatic re-registration for all voters who move
anywhere within the state. Now, when a voter changes their residential
address with the United States Postal Service, instead of merely de-registering
the voter, the election official notifies the jurisdiction into which the
person moved and has them added to the voter roll for their new residence.
Other important strategies for increasing the percentage of registered voters are promoting youth registration by allowing pre-registration at 16 and primary voting at 17 (for those who will be 18 by the general election). Internet registration is also an important part of a comprehensive, proactive voter registration system.
If you've been following the presidential campaign the last few weeks,
you've probably caught a glimpse of John McCain going on one of his
well-rehearsed rants about the
community organizing group ACORN and how its voter registration
campaigns may amount to "one of the greatest frauds in voter history in