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Why Everyone Should be Registered to Vote

J. Mijin Cha

The U.S. is one of just a handful of democracies that places the duty of registration on the individual. 

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a coordinated day of action to raise awareness around voter registration and to help eligible voters register. Millions of people don’t vote every election because they missed a registration deadline or don’t know how to register. In the 2012 election, 71.2 percent of eligible voters were registered.

Young people and people of color, however, have lower rates of registration than the national average. Only 53.6 percent of 18-24 year olds are registered and 68.7 percent of 25-44 year olds are registered. Only 56.3 percent of Asian Americans and 58.7 percent of Hispanic Americans are registered. African Americans, in contrast, have a higher rate of registration at 73.1 percent.

The U.S. is one of just a handful of democracies that places the duty of registration on the individual. Many other democracies make it the duty of the government to ensure that voters are registered. As a result, their voter registration rates are far higher than ours. Registration rates in Mexico and Canada are above 90 percent due to the active role their governments play in registering people to vote.

Voter registration rates could be that high in the U.S. even without a strong government role. One of the easiest policy prescriptions is Same Day Registration. (SDR) Allowing eligible voters to register and vote on the same day removes arbitrary cut off dates, increases participation and makes voting more accessible. States with SDR have higher rates of voter registration. In fact, SDR is so popular that it was one of the top targets of the North Carolina Monster Bill, the incredibly anti-voter legislation that passed last session and eliminated SDR along with enacting other anti-voter provisions.

As we face an electoral system that is increasingly dominated by wealthy and corporate interests, voting is the first line of defense for our democracy. Sheldon Adelson may be able to spend millions of dollars during the election cycle but when it comes down to Election Day, his vote counts the same as my vote. Every eligible citizen needs to register to vote. Tell a friend and register here.