Overdue Reform: The Need for Statewide Computerized Voter Registration Systems

Overdue Reform: The Need for Statewide Computerized Voter Registration Systems

January 1, 2002
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Anyone who has ever been stopped by a state trooper for a traffic violation knows that the computer systems used to maintain motor vehicle records are very technologically advanced. Sitting in their patrol cars, state troopers can instantly access vast amounts of centralized data about motorists. A comparable commitment to maintaining and accessing voter registration records, however, does not exist in most states -- a problem that undermines the effective functioning of American democracy.

The controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election dramatically underscores the need to improve the quality of voter registration lists. In at least 25 states, inaccurate or purged lists prevented some eligible voters from casting ballots and caused widespread frustration at the polls. The best way for states to improve list quality, and thus ensure that all voters who come to the polls can vote, is to establish statewide integrated voter registration databases, along with safeguards adequate to protect voters from erroneous purges. Such systems can also play a critical role in facilitating new reform efforts aimed at increasing voter participation, such as allowing for election day registration.
 
Less than half of all states either have state-of-the-art voter registration lists or have plans to create them. The Federal Election Commission has repeatedly urged states to update their systems for collecting, maintaining, and accessing voter registration records. Much new work in this area needs to be done, and federal and state funds are necessary to make this possible.
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