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Universal Voter Registration: An International Perspective

Eve Robert // Published April 21, 2009



[PDF-248 KB]

The United States is one of the few democracies in the world where the government does not take any responsibility in registering its citizens. This one-of-a-kind, self-initiated voter registration process acts as a major barrier to voter turnout and leads to often-inaccurate voter rolls.
 
In contrast, the international norm is a process of government-mandated automatic voter registration of every citizen who reaches voting age. This report explores how other major well-established democracies (Canada, Australia, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand and others) concretely manage to build comprehensive, inclusive, accurate voting rolls that leave no voters behind while ensuring a high level of privacy. As it turns out, many of these “best practices,” could easily be implemented in the U.S. context to modernize our voter registration system.

This report takes a closer look at youth voter registration practices. Young voters are difficult to register; yet as first-time voters, their political participation is particularly crucial. Various strategies, in the U.S. and abroad, have been successfully implemented to target this particular segment of the population. The best approach actually seems to be the creation of a provisional list (16-year-old pre-registration), combined with high school-based registration drives and birthday card programs for 17 and 18 year olds.