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Modernizing Democracy: Same Day Registration In 2012

Tova Wang

Same Day Registration increases voter participation and lets people fix registration problems at the polls on Election Day.

Pew’s new report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient,” helpfully sheds light on the most serious problem in our election system: the failures of our voter registration system. 

It demonstrates that while many elected officials in states across the country have focused on passing laws that would disenfranchise millions of people and do nothing to improve the voting process--like restrictive voter identification laws--they have neglected to address the most important issues of our democratic access. Our antiquated voter registration rolls are inefficient, inaccurate, and an obstacle to voting for tens of millions of eligible U.S. citizens.

The Pew report finds that 51 million U.S. citizens of voting age--a quarter of the eligible population--are not registered to vote. That means that there is a huge population that is not even able to get to the ballot box.  Moreover, millions of people show up at the polls to find they are not on the registration list because of simple flaws in the system. 

The report concludes that these problems demonstrate the need for comprehensive voter registration modernization.

The first and most important step that states should take in this regard is to enact Same Day Registration.  Analyses have consistently shown that SDR is a measure that increases voter participation dramatically and, importantly, allows people to fix registration problems at the polls on Election Day. States with SDR have had higher voter turnout than those without SDR for over 25 years. Data shows an average voter turnout 7 percentage points higher than the average turnout for non-SDR states in November 2008. The top five states in terms of voter turnout were all SDR states.

Administrative mistakes and bureaucratic burdens shouldn’t deny Americans the ability to make their voices heard in the democratic process, and participate in elections through which we decide on our government. Rather than being distracted by misleading and even false stories about in-person polling place fraud and restricting the right to vote, our elected leadership should focus on solving these real problems and pass Same Day Registration legislation in time for the 2012 election.