On the eve of National Voter Registration Day, California has taken a huge leap forward in reducing the barriers to voting. Governor Brown signed into law a Same Day Registration program, making California the 11th (and largest) state – plus Washington, D.C. - to allow voters to register to vote and cast their vote on the same day.
This is a common sense reform with long-standing track records of success in states like Minnesota. Same Day Registration is so popular with voters that last year in Maine, after the legislature wanted to put an end to the program, Maine’s citizens exercised a “People’s Veto” and demanded the program continue – they reinstated the program by making their voices heard at the ballot box through a referendum on the law.
States that allow Same Day Registration consistently lead the country in voter participation. Indeed, the top five states for voter turnout in the 2008 elections had all removed arbitrary registration deadlines. After adopting Same Day Registration North Carolina witnessed the greatest increase in voter turnout over the previous presidential election.
Registration is one element of election administration that closes off access to the ballot for too many people. 90 percent of the people who were registered to vote in 2008 turned out to vote, whereas the voting rate for all people who were eligible to vote was only 64 percent. Today, approximately 51 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote, which is almost 25 percent of the eligible voting population.
This is particularly good news considering that so many of the laws effecting voting this year have gone in the wrong direction. We’ve seen restrictions on voter registration drives, efforts to limit early voting hours, and of course burdensome ID requirements that make it harder for eligible Americans to have their voice heard by casting a ballot that will be counted.
Elections should be free, fair, and accessible. When citizens fulfill their civic duty to vote, government should meet its responsibilities by reducing the barriers to voting. Allowing voters to register to vote on Election Day and the weeks of early voting leading up to it will ensure that more Americans participate in choosing their leaders, thus strengthening our government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” All Americans in the world’s longest running democracy deserve no less, and today the voters of California got it.