STATEMENT: Failure to Enact Election Day Registration is Loss for Voters

Release Date: 
November 6, 2002

New York, NY — Propositions to enact Election Day Registration (EDR) in California and Colorado were defeated yesterday, preventing citizens from gaining the ability to register and vote on Election Day. The promise of EDR is that every citizen, including significant portions of the population that have traditionally been marginalized, have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. If the propositions had been approved, it was expected that California and Colorado would have joined the nations six other states that have EDR in boasting higher voter turnout and registration rates than the national average.

The initiatives are not the losers here; it is the citizens of California and Colorado who are losing out, said Miles Rapoport, President of Demos and former Secretary of the State of Connecticut. Young voters, new citizens, people of color, and low-income individuals whose voices are largely inaudible in our democracy are missing a significant opportunity to be more involved.

A campaign of misinformation and distortion orchestrated by organizations like the California-based Citizens and Law Enforcement Against Election Fraud and Coloradans for Fair Elections caused the initiatives defeats. The groups, formed after announcement of the EDR ballot initiative, spread claims of election fraud and administrative chaos that are unsupported by the facts. The six states that already have EDRIdaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyominghave proven that EDR is inexpensive and easy to implement with very few instances of fraud.

We applaud the efforts of the leaders and broad coalitions in both states, said Steven Carbó, Democracy Program Director for Demos. Their thoughtful research and policy development, broad public education efforts, and energetic campaigns all helped to raise the issue of Election Day Registration and the expansion of our democracy into the public debate.

Despite the defeats, support for EDR is growing. Advocates and legislators in 20 new states expressing interest in enacting legislation that would enable every citizen to have the fullest access possible to register and vote.

In another significant development, last week President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act, created by Congress in response to the election debacle of 2000. The bill can create extraordinary opportunities to work for expansion of political participation in the next several years. The new law authorizes Congress to allocate $3 billion to the states over the next three years to improve their election processes. This effort will only be successful if the public plays a leading role in shaping plans for use of these funds. Vigilant oversight of the funding process is essential. Accurate and computerized voter registration keeping; enhanced poll worker recruitment and training; user-friendly voting systems for language minority citizens and persons with disabilities; and fully-staffed hot line operations are all critical components of effective election reform.

Equally important, we must use this opportunity to initiate a lively debate in every state about how we can eliminate barriers to participation, increase the systems accessibility, and expand Americas democratic process to include every citizen. These debates will be challenging, but they are fundamental to the health and vitality of our democracy, Rapoport said.

Demos is a new york based nonprofit, non partisan public policy and advocacy organization.

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