Monday, October 24, 2016

The other voter suppression scandal

Today is the last day to register to vote on November 8 in California. In many states, the registration deadline has already passed.

Quite properly, Democrats have been fighting efforts by Republican state legislatures to reduce the opportunities for people of color and young people to exercise their right to vote by means of restrictive voter ID requirements and other bureaucratic impediments. They've had some successes, notably in North Carolina where a court ruled that the state's new voting law was designed with "almost surgical precision" to reduce African-American voting. That law is on hold this year.

But the additional travesty embedded in most states' election administration is the requirement for voter registration well before election day.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of eligible citizens can't vote because they are not registered. Did they want to be registered? Who knows? Do they even know? Some may, but when you're off the socially approved track, the glib answer to why you never got into the game is that you didn't want to play. If you later decide you want in, you shouldn't be kept out for no rational reason.

Registration might have made some sense when records were laboriously kept on paper -- though not much sense. Your address does determine which local candidates you can vote on, so it makes it easier for the people running the election if they know in advance how many ballots of what kind they need. But that shouldn't be a terrible hurdle in the age of electronic voting.

In the era of big data, voter registration requirements are anachronisms. In general, the states know who we are and where we live. There are outliers, but not many. Registrars could manage to run elections without knowing how many ballot papers to print.

And ten states do offer same day registration at the polls: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Washington, DC is also a "same day" jurisdiction. The specific procedures differ; some sort of ID or verification is usually required, but the point is to make participation easy. California will join the same day registration states -- next year. Nothing terrible has happened in states without advance registration; a few places have done without it since the 1970s.

Demos describes what implementing same day registration accomplishes.

[SDR] Assists geographically mobile, lower-income citizens, young voters and voters of color. Keeping voter registration records current is a big challenge under current systems, which place the onus of updating records on the individual. Census data show that over 36 million people in America moved between 2011 and 2012, and nearly half of those moving had low-incomes. Young adults of all income levels also move more frequently—for school, for jobs, for family. Same Day Registration offers those who have recently moved but failed to update registration records another opportunity to register and vote. Research indicates that allowing young people to register to vote on Election Day could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by as much as 14 percentage points.

Experience suggests that more people vote when we make it easier and less intimidating. (Duh!)
Same day registration is a reform worth fighting for.

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