Why Universal Voter Registration Is Necessary

Register to vote The president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Richard Trumka, gave a speech to the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP) that calls for national voter registration. He believes that such a law could help citizens better fight against the Citizens United decision, and said:

“I’m not dropping that idea lightly. We need to fundamentally change access to the ballot. Only about two of three black and white voters are registered, but half—half—of eligible Latinos and Asians are not registered to vote today, and that’s unacceptable. We’re going to do something about it.”

And it’s something that needs to be done; The MacArthur Foundation conducted a recent poll that found an overwhelming majority of Americans support national voting standards, including defining eligibility standards across the nation. The chances are good that these same people would support universal registration, particularly because one of the problems we have is people who thought they were registered, but weren’t because they moved and their registration didn’t move with them. Attorney General Eric Holder has also called for national voting standards and championed the ongoing necessity of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulates that 16 states with a history of discrimination against protected classes must have changes in their voting laws reviewed and approve. He also noted that several attempts to pass laws that could disproportionately affect minority voters were struck down in several states.

Section 5 doesn’t touch every state, however. Holder also touched on the need for automatic registration on a national level, mentioning that 80% of the people who didn’t vote in the 2008 election didn’t do so because they weren’t registered. Some of the reasons for that were because they didn’t re-register after moving, missed the registration deadline (which in some places is a full month before election day), or were discouraged by the unnecessarily complex procedures and requirements in place in some areas. If people are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, and their registration goes with them when they move, some of the issues that currently plague registration procedures would go away. Furthermore, people wouldn’t have to worry about missing the registration deadline before a major election. It would also standardize registration deadlines; a few states considered doing away with same-day voter registration, which, according to the ACLU, actually brings turnout up by 10-12%.

Voter ID laws, which vary from state to state, also disenfranchise various demographics who don’t possess such ID, despite being U.S. citizens. Such laws require people to navigate a sometimes difficult process of obtaining “acceptable ID,” despite their only alternative being not voting at all. Our current registration system also places undue burden and expense on the precincts that must maintain voter rolls, due to the antiquated systems that are full of errors and inefficiency. They would reduce expenses for election boards, as well as ensure that people don’t run into registration issues at the polls. This could also potentially help with lines at the polls.

Whenever election officials must hunt for a voter’s name, or go through their various procedures to grant a provisional ballot, people are held up. The more this happens, the longer the lines can get. Since states already maintain databases of people for drivers’ licenses and other things, they would merely need to expand these databases and either make them available for federal universal registration, or use them to automatically register people themselves instead of having voter-initiated registration. That, too, would reduce costs.