Posted by Adam Fogel on March 20, 2009In the past couple of weeks, we have seen growing interest in modernizing the voter registration process--moving toward a FairVote goal of universal voter registration. Both the Senate Rules Committee and the House Judiciary Committee held hearings about problems voters faced during the November 2008 election. FairVote submitted written testimony for the Senate hearing that you can read here.
These hearings demonstrated the need to reform our voter registration system, with automatic and permanent registration being the top priority. Harvard Professor Stephen Ansolabehere said that between 4 and 6 million Americans lost their right to vote due to administrative issues, with half being the result of problems with voter registration. Jonah Goldman, from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, explained that the biggest problem in election administration had to do with "paper and timing": "Each registration requires an individual paper form and the vast majority of these forms arrive at registrars offices during the critical planning and implementation period just before an election." With a system of automatic registration--where the government takes the responsibility for maintaining full and accurate voter rolls--these problems would decrease in the short-term and eventually be a thing of the past.
Not just academics and voting rights advocates are pointing out the flaws of our current voter registration system and calling for reform. Editorials this week in both the Washington Post and the New York Times advocate modernizing our registration system. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in response to the election debacle in 2000 (remember Florida?). This time, the media barely covered the problems voters faced at the polls, so many people may not realize the necessity to move forward with reforming the voter registration system. It seems that Congress is quick to act in the wake of crisis or controversy (see: the Patriot Act, HAVA, AIG Bonus Tax), but moves with an abundance of caution when there is no public outcry. Hopefully, the testimony presented at these hearings, the support from major papers' editorial boards and the increased media attention this issue deserves will motivate Congress to do something quickly and deliberately about our broken voter registration system.