Don’t Forget About Same Day Registration

By LaShonda Brenson, Marissa Liebling July 5, 2016
(Project Vote)
(Project Vote)

While conventional wisdom suggests that midterm elections generally have lower turnout rates when compared to presidential elections, the 2014 midterm election marked a historic low with a national turnout rate of less than 37 percent. Luckily, modern technology increasingly makes it easier than ever to update our procedures so eligible voters are not deprived of the right to vote due to a forgotten, lost, or outdated registration.

It’s no wonder that automatic voter registration is the most recent trend, as it promises to modernize procedures while increasing the registration rate. While there is no silver bullet for increasing voter turnout, automatic registration is a significant reform because more voters included on the official voter list means more eligible people will receive critical election information and get-out–the-vote efforts.

“[S]ame day registration is one of the surest ways to increase turnout and is the most significant reform for decreasing inequalities in voter participation. “

However trendy automatic registration may be, efforts to adopt same day voter registration should not cease. Same day registration allows an eligible elector to register and cast a ballot at the same time, during early voting, on Election Day, or both. First adopted in the 1970s, same day registration may be the older and less sexy reform, but it is tried and true. Turnout is always dependent on a wide range of variables. But, researchers have also found that same day registration is one of the surest ways to increase turnout and is the most significant reform for decreasing inequalities in voter participation. According to an earlier report released by Project Vote and Demos, voter turnout in states with SDR in the 2012 presidential election was, on average, 10 percentage points higher than other states.

Same day registration should be a no-brainer. New voters may simply be unaware of registration deadlines until it’s too late. Registered voters who move may not realize they need to update their registration or even re-register. Sometimes agencies, like motor vehicles offices, fail to offer the opportunity to register to vote or update a registration record, as required by law. And, occasionally, registrations get lost or entered incorrectly. States that have offered same day registration for decades, like Maine and Wisconsin, prove no special technology is necessary. However, things like modernized statewide voter lists and electronic poll books make it easier and faster than ever to enter and track registrations.

While the number of states adopting same day registration has steadily increased, the progress has been slow when compared to other reforms. What may be lost on some lawmakers is obvious to most Americans. Last month, icitizen conducted a poll of 1,029 adults, 87 percent of whom identified as a registered voter.[1] Unsurprisingly, a majority of those surveyed agreed that, “[p]eople should be able to register to vote or update their voter registration information on Election Day.” And one-third strongly agreed!

Lawmakers eager to champion automatic registration should consider same day registration as well. In fact, the two reforms complement one another well. By adding people in advance, automatic registration should dramatically reduce the need for same day registration and any resources associated with it. At the same time, same day registration remains an important safety net, even in automatic voter registration states. This is particularly true for those who interact with an automatic registration “source” agency—often the department of motor vehicles rarely—such as some seniors or college students. It’s also important for anyone missed in the automatic registration process due to potential issues, like missing information or data errors.

At the very least, states should adopt permanent portable registration (or Election Day correction) whereby registered voters who move within a state can update their registration when they vote. It’s a simple, but important practice that all states should adopt. But this feature may be particularly critical for automatic registration to have the greatest and most efficient impact, as often driver’s license or state ID cards don’t expire for many years and some states give ample time before requiring driver’s license address updates after moving.[2] It makes little sense to adopt automatic registration in order to add more people to the rolls if later changes of address make some citizens ineligible to cast a ballot.

Certainly, we support and encourage automatic registration and other smart, cutting-edge election reforms. Let’s just not forget about reliable reforms like same day registration!


[1] icitizen conducted a survey of 1,029 adults nationwide, age 18 and older, from May 9-13, 2016. The survey included 894 registered voters. The general population sample was weighted to U.S. Census benchmarks for age, gender, region, race, income, and education. The survey was conducted online with sample provided by Qualtrics. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 3.1, and higher for subgroups.

[2] For example, in Georgia, Nebraska, and North Carolina, drivers have up to 60 days to update their address. See O.C.G.A. § 40-5-33 (2010); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-4,120 (2014); N.C.G.S § 20-7.1.

 

2 Responses to “Don’t Forget About Same Day Registration”

  1. Trisha Hargis says:

    I am not finding the information I need on any site so far. My mother needs to know if she is still registered to vote? She has not voted since the 2012 Presidential election. Also if she is not registered is it too late for her to register and still vote for the 2016 Presidential election? Thank you for your help.

    1. Michael McDunnah says:

      Hi, Trisha. You can check if your mother is currently registered here: http://www.rockthevote.com/get-informed/elections/am-i-registered-to-vote/. (And if she’s not, there’s still time to register.)

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