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Voter Registration Modernization a Progressive Alternative to Right-Wing Voter ID Laws

Kris Kobach, Kansas’ incoming Secretary of State and the mastermind behind Arizona’s SB 1070, is gearing up for his next battle in 2011: putting an end to “voter fraud” by mandating photo identification at the polls.  During his campaign, Kobach argued that, “[i]n Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.”  He further called on “the country’s secretaries of state [to] take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of our elections.”  However, what Kobach didn't acknowledge is that modernizing voter registration systems is a far more effective and cost-saving way to achieve election integrity and security, without the side effect of disenfranchising millions of eligible voters.

Voter ID bills only prevent one type of voter fraud: the impersonation of registered voters at the polls.  According to research from the Brennan Center for Justice, instances of such fraud are so rare that one is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud.  Current problems with election integrity have less to do with voter fraud and more to do with the fact that our antiquated voter registration system – which has barely changed over the past century – is in desperate need of an upgrade.  Not only does the existing patchwork of voter registration laws and procedures actually leave the system vulnerable to fraud, but a modernized system would utilize already-existing government databases to compile an accurate list of eligible adult citizens, preventing bloated voter rolls. 

Aside from preventing fraud more effectively, voter registration modernization would also boost the percentage of registrations coming from historically disenfranchised communities, as government databases compile complete lists of eligible voters.  Meanwhile, what Kobach and his allies fail to mention are the potentially devastating effects of voter ID requirements on turnout within low-income, elderly, and minority communities who are less likely to have these forms of documentation.  Such suppression isn’t cheap, either.  The cost of implementation of a voter ID law is considerable, even before the inevitable legal challenge is taken into consideration – Missouri’s Committee on Legislative Research found that state would have to spend nearly $6 million the first year and $4 million in its second and third years.  Meanwhile, after Arizona implemented online registration, the state began saving 80 cents per voter registration. Similarly, Washington has saved between 50 cents and $2 per registration, compared to paper.

If Kobach were truly interested in maintaining the integrity of our election system, he would be calling for the following four cornerstones of voter registration modernization

  • Automatic Registration: Consenting eligible citizens are automatically added to the voter rolls by electronically transferring information from other government lists (e.g. DMV, public assistance).
  • Portability: A voter remains registered as long as he/she continues to reside in the state.
  • Election Day Corrections: Eligible citizens can correct errors on the voter rolls before and on Election Day.
  • Online Access: Voters can register, check and update their registration records online.

Instead, his crusade against “voter fraud” is just a thinly-veiled right-wing excuse to suppress the votes of low-income, elderly, and minority constituencies. 

For more information on our work on election reform policy, please contact: Cristina Francisco-McGuire, Election Reform Policy Specialist 212-680-3116, ext 118; cfrancisco-mcguire@progressivestates.org.

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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