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Election Day Registration

One of the biggest challenges in raising voter turnout is address the rate of voter registration. The vast majority of states have registration deadlines weeks before Election Day. The schedule poses problems for busy Americans who simply forget to register or re-register and find themselves unable to vote on Election Day. During the 2000 Presidential election alone, nearly 3 million voters were disenfranchised due to registration problems. Luckily, a simple solution is available: Election Day Registration (EDR).

Any registration problem that may arise can be easily solved by allowing the voter to re-register right at the polling place. EDR also reduces the need for cumbersome provisional ballots, which are currently used when a voter's registration is in question. More importantly, while provisional ballots often go uncounted, Election Day registration provides certainty to citizens that their votes will count.

Lowering Barriers, Increasing Participation

The statistics for voter turnout in 2004 with Election Day Registration are astounding and point to the potential that the system has to be a key reform to renew democracy in America:

  • 74% of Eligible Voters participated in states with Election Day Registration, compared to only 60% in non-EDR states.
  • Top Four States for Turnout in '04 had EDR -- Minnesota (78%), Wisconsin (75%), Maine (73%), and New Hampshire (71%). The fifth highest state was Oregon -- the universal vote-by-mail state.
  • Turnout is Higher Even When Controlling for Competitiveness -- "Safe" states with EDR significantly outperformed "safe" states without EDR in terms of voter participation. "Battleground" states with EDR significantly outperformed "battleground" states without EDR in terms of voter participation.

Specifically, Election Day Registration functions to increase turnout among certain segments of the population more likely to encounter registration problems:

  • People Who Move -- Huge portions of the population move between Presidential elections. In many cases, especially for people who move frequently, updating voter registration is easy to forget. EDR ensures that mobile doesn't have to mean unmobilized.
  • Young People -- Young voters are a huge beneficiary of EDR in part because they move so often. States with Election Day Registration have noticed large surges in youth voting.
  • Historically Disenfranchised Voters -- Voters who have faced discrimination historically are still among the most likely to face registration errors, often through no fault of their own.

James Carmichael noted that EDR did not necessarily lead to a large jump in participation in Montana in 2006, when the state adopted the reform for the first time. Anecdotally, evidence suggests that EDR did play a role in higher turnout. But two factors may have contributed to a lack of a particular surge in Montana: 1) the recent adoption of EDR and relatively little activity to take advantage of the reform in voter turnout efforts, and 2) Montana's law does not allow precinct-level registration, which may have caused confusion and added to intimidatingly long lines for voters interested in registering on Election Day.

The surge in voting is a notable benefit of Election Day Registration, but what should be noted is that the reform lacks partisan advantage. According to Demos, "EDR wil help voters, not parties. It is a common misconception that EDR will disproportionally advantage the Democratic Party. EDR benefits all citizens and encourages everyone to be actively involved in the electoral process. Moreover, both Democratic and Republican election officials support EDR." Also worth noting -- Idaho and Wyoming are both EDR states and remain among the most staunchly Republican in the nation. Adoption of EDR in Montana occured in a year when Democrats picked up a U.S. Senate seat, but Republicans gained state legislative seats.

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Adopting Election Day Registration

Several states already have Election Day Registration laws that can be easily modeled and all evidence is that the laws can be implemented in a very cost-effective manner. Demos analyzed the cost in existing states and found that the cost ranged from $0 to $250 per precinct to implement.

For many places, the Minnesota model that has worked well for years will be an ideal place to start:

Election day registration. (a) An individual who is eligible to vote may register on election day by appearing in person at the polling place for the precinct in which the individual maintains residence, by completing a registration application, making an oath in the form prescribed by the secretary of state and providing proof of residence. An individual may prove residence for purposes of registering by:

(1) presenting a driver's license or Minnesota identification card issued pursuant to section 171.07;

(2) presenting any document approved by the secretary of state as proper identification;

(3) presenting one of the following:

(i) a current valid student identification card from a postsecondary educational institution in Minnesota, if a list of students from that institution has been prepared under section 135A.17 and certified to the county auditor in the manner provided in rules of the secretary of state; or

(ii) a current student fee statement that contains the student's valid address in the precinct together with a picture identification card; or

(4) having a voter who is registered to vote in the precinct, or who is an, employed by and working in a residential facility in the precinct and vouching for a resident in the facility, sign an oath in the presence of the election judge vouching that the voter or employee personally knows that the individual is a resident of the precinct.

The Montana model works a bit differently. Rather than precinct-level registration, Election Day Registrants have to register and vote at their county courthouse. The move was adopted in Montana in order to allow confirmation against the HAVA-required statewide voter file that the EDR voter was not already registered and voting elsewhere in the state.

When faced with Election Day Registration bills, opponents will raise the specter of fraud. Unfortunately for them, there is no evidence that EDR contributes to fraud. In fact, by encouraging greater citizen participation while maintaing strong controls to prevent fraud, EDR can dilute the effects of any fraud that might be perpetrated -- through the radical method of getting more people into the process.

Election Day Registration campaigns are under way in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont.

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