The Responsible Way to Increase Voter Access: Same Day Registration

By Brian McWalters April 13, 2017
(Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons)

In its recently released report, America Goes to The Polls 2016, Nonprofit VOTE declared that same day registration (SDR) has “proven to be the most effective and multi-faceted policy to increase voter participation across all states, regardless of voters’ ages and backgrounds.”

As the report notes, SDR (which allows voters to register or correct their registration on the day of an election or during an early voting period and vote on that same day) has the demonstrable effect of increasing voter turnout. States with SDR consistently see a turnout seven to 13 percentage points higher than that in non-SDR states. During this most recent election, the two states to most recently implement SDR, Connecticut and Illinois, were both among the top four states in terms of increased voter turnout.

In addition to increasing voter turnout, SDR is an invaluable safety net that ensures voters who have already registered are not denied the opportunity vote when previously-unknown registration-related problems surface on Election Day. Providing voters the chance to correct registration records on the spot also increases the accuracy of voter rolls and reduces the costs associated with administering provisional ballots.

Despite the proven benefits of SDR, and the ease with which SDR can be administered using modern technology, the majority of states remain without any form of SDR. However, states have been making steady progress. Since 2000, eight states, plus Washington, D.C., have implemented SDR, compared with only six states before 2000. Five of these SDR laws have been enacted in the last five years.

Many state legislators have taken note and are attempting to build on this momentum; 45 SDR bills were introduced in 22 states and U.S Congress in 2017. While the number of bills introduced is encouraging, much work remains if SDR is to be made a legislative priority. So far, only eight SDR bills made it out of committee and only four of these were passed by one legislative chamber.

One SDR bill that appeared primed for passage was Senate Bill 423 (see our testimony) in Maryland, a state that currently has SDR for early voting periods. This bill would have put on a ballot initiative, to be decided on by Maryland voters, an amendment to the state constitution authorizing the General Assembly to extend SDR to Election Day. Unfortunately, while Election Day registration had ample support in both chambers of Maryland’s legislature, disagreement over some minor changes to the bill stalled it right before the 2017 legislative session adjourned on April 10.

Hopefully, legislators in Maryland and elsewhere will continue to push for enactment of SDR laws. While other voting rights issues dominate the headlines nationally, it is important to remain vigilant of opportunities to responsibly increase access to the democratic process. Same day registration, which has been proven as an effective means of accomplishing this goal and is conspicuously absent from many state codes, is perhaps the best opportunity available.

Brian McWalters is a legislative intern with Project Vote for the spring of 2017.