Jeb Bush is laughing off the news that he listed himself as Hispanic on a 2009 voter registration form.
“Don’t think I’ve fooled anyone,” the all-but-announced 2016 presidential hopeful—and descendant of Plymouth Rock settlers—tweeted Monday.
This looks to have been a harmless mistake by the former Florida governor. But Bush’s mix-up nonetheless underscores a crucial problem with our election system—one that’s getting increasing attention amid fights over voting access and declining turnout: By putting ordinary people in charge of registering themselves to vote, we’re guaranteeing frequent errors—some much more consequential than Bush’s—while reducing the number of people who end up voting.
Having to register to vote is a practical barrier for some people, especially those who are poor and marginalized. So shifting that burden to the state leads to more people voting. That’s more urgent than ever after a midterm election that saw just 36% of eligible Americans turn out—the lowest figure since World War II.
“We’re definitely supportive of the overall goal of having government take more responsibility for getting eligible people onto the rolls, rather than leaving the burden solely on each individual to figure out all the ins and outs and cut through the red tape and make it happen,” said Brenda Wright, the vice president of legal strategies at Demos, which works to increase political participation.
Wright called the Oregon bill a “good first step,” but said it leaves out eligible voters who don’t interact with the DMV. A more comprehensive approach, she said, would also register people who come into contact with other government offices, like those that provide welfare and other social services.