The most sacred right in our democracy is the right to vote. In the next week, Delaware has the opportunity to make that right stronger than ever before.
State Senator Margaret Rose Henry has introduced a bill in the Delaware Senate that would introduce Same-Day Registration to the state. Henry’s bill is just one part of a broader movement for expanded voting rights that’s sweeping the country. Earlier this year, Vermont became the 15th state to pass SDR. Hawaii and Illinois passed it in 2014, and Connecticut and California adopted the practice earlier this decade.
Hillary Clinton has suggested the most sweeping change of all: automatic voter registration for every American who turns 18. Taken together, it’s obvious there’s finally a nationwide movement to take away those burdens that fly in the face of our equal rights as democratic citizens. If Delaware doesn’t get on board, it will get left behind.
With Same-Day Registration, any eligible voter would be able to show up at the polls on Election Day, register to vote, and cast their ballot immediately. SDR proposals are crucial tools in the fight to expand voting rights because their track record is already very clear. In the last decade, the number of SDR states has more than doubled from six to 14, plus the District of Columbia. Many states with SDR have among the highest voter turnout in the nation. In the 2012 election, the average turnout rate in states with SDR was 68 percent, a full 10 points higher than the average turnout rate in states without it.
Meanwhile, in Delaware, a bill to implement SDR statewide is being held up in a committee, the victim of legislative inaction. For voting-rights advocates in Delaware, this is déjà vu all over again: In 2013 and 2014, an identical SDR bill was passed by the Delaware House, approved by the Senate committee, and then left to expire when the legislative session ended. This year, the same bill was brought to the floor by Sen. Henry, where it passed the Senate’s Administration and Services Committee but hasn’t made any progress since.
Republicans oppose the bill, giving reasons that are all too familiar: That same-day voters are likely to be less informed (a flat-out undemocratic argument), or that SDR will make voter fraud more likely. This last argument has been debunked many times. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, protections against fraud are integral to Same-Day Registration across the country. Groups from the League of Women Voters to Delaware’s own Elections Commissioner have likewise concluded there’s no evidence that SDR programs increase voter fraud.
If anything, the evidence shows the opposite: Too many eligible voters are illegally deprived of that right. In states like Delaware, which have a high percentage of African-American citizens, it’s especially imperative to expand access to the vote. According to a report by Demos, “during the 2012 election cycle, Delaware performed below the national averages in voter registration and turnout for both African-Americans and Hispanics.”
Another state with a large African-American population, North Carolina, has shown a path forward. “Though they represented 20 percent of the voting-age population, African-Americans comprised 36 percent of the state’s SDR voters in the 2008 presidential election,” a number that jumped up to 41 percent in 2012. And it’s not just African-Americans. Any group of people that’s less likely to vote — young adults who move frequently, people who don’t drive, and low-income voters — benefits from Same-Day Registration.
Delaware cannot afford to remain behind while other states push ahead with much-needed reforms to our cumbersome, discriminatory voting system. Through its “E-Signature” program, Delaware has already demonstrated that it understands many eligible voters aren’t registered. Further, while the E-Signature program has enabled more people to register to vote, not every citizen drives, and others may not be able to access a DMV.
Same-Day Registration is a way to fight this problem with even more energy and resources. And elected officials reluctant to act on giving every eligible Delawarean an equal opportunity to vote, and making voting as free, fair, and easy as possible, should remember who put them in their seats. Same-Day Registration would expand and ensure democracy’s most sacred right for hundreds of thousands of citizens. Before the legislative session ends on June 30, our democratically elected state leaders should show us that they’re serious about that right.