Issue in the Spotlight: Voter Pre-Registration as a Step Toward Universal Registration
The value a nation places on democratic principles can be measured by the actions it takes to realize them. Though American ideals are embodied in the notion of a government of, by and for the people, the rules and methods by which we allow citizens to take part in that process are disparate and various from state to state, town to town, precinct to precinct. Would-be voters are expected to navigate their way through myriad levels of bureaucracy in order to participate, all dependent upon where they live, rather than being considered an inherent part of that very system from square one.
Thanks in part to the research, advocacy and educational initiatives of FairVote and its allies, however, the doors of political participation are opening wider, blazing new trails toward true universal voter registration--having every eligible voter registered to vote and registered only once. More state legislators are drafting, debating, and most importantly passing reform measures intended to bring more Americans into the process.
Our short-term focus has been on pre-registering 16 and 17-year-olds to vote and fully educating them in the political process so they can be ready to exercise their civic duties as soon as they come of age. We first proposed pre-registration in 2004 as a means to focus policymakers on the goal of universal registration--systematic registration of all newly eligible voters makes simple, good sense. Through our outreach and communications, pre-registration has come to be a winning idea in states, and is poised to gain key backers in Congress to advance it as a national standard.
This reform, enacted widely and implemented well, will be an all-important step toward having every qualified voter registered. A bigger step, supported effectively by such groups as the Brennan Center, is in the works at the federal level as well, as members of the U.S. Senate begin work on voter registration modernization legislation that we hope will lower barriers to participation and bring more uniformity to the process as a whole.
FairVote resources on this topic include:
Read on in this latest edition of the FairVote Reformer to see what's new on the registration modernization front, and in other important areas of electoral reform.
All the best,
Paul Fidalgo, communications director
Adam Fogel, Right to Vote director
On July 13, Right to Vote director Adam Fogel testified
before the DC City Council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment in support of the Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009. Adam highlighted how the bill establishes FairVote proposals of pre-registration for 16-year-olds and primary voting for all those who will be eligible to vote in corresponding general elections. He particularly emphasized the value of education in civics and the mechanics of political participation for D.C.'s young voters to complement these proposals. On July 27, the Washington Post came out in favor
of the bill, citing their support for pre-registration and Election Day registration. Adam also was in Minneapolis for the National Civic Summit
, delivering a presentation focused on voter pre-registration with Democracy North Carolina
's Adam Sotak.
Two more major newspapers endorsed the broader principle of universal voter registration in recent editorials. On July 23, the New York Times
wrote, "To live up to the ideal of the founders of a nation governed with the consent of the governed, the United States should aspire to get as close to full registration of eligible voters as possible." Roll Call
agrees, declaring at the close of last month that the Help America Vote Act should be amended so that all citizens are automatically registered to vote through existing government agencies---and just such legislation looks to be in the works in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Finally, the Brennan Center
has issued the latest in a series of reports on voter registration modernization--essential reading for advocates. On other right to vote issues:
* FairVote and the New America Foundation
's June 30th event on the future of voting rights is now available
for viewing in full, complete with a guide to the proceedings. See Jamin Raskin and Eddie Hailes make the case for a constitutional right to vote, Steven Mulroy and Amy Ngai explain how choice voting gives voters more power and several other leading authorities discuss Supreme Court rulings and their implications for future reform.
* The Democracy Restoration Act
has been introduced in Congress, a bill that would establish uniform standards for restoring voting rights to millions of American citizens who have been denied suffrage due to past felony convictions.
* Lest you think the prospects for representation for the District of Columbia have fallen off the political radar, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs unexpectedly reaffirmed President Obama's commitment not just to a vote in Congress for DC, but for statehood. Take a look at our blog post
on this almost-overlooked exchange.
Instant runoff voting is on the ballot this fall in Saint Paul (MN), where a strong grassroots campaign has collected sufficient signatures to bring the option to the voters. Minneapolis's first-ever instant runoff voting and choice voting elections this year are also generating major attention in the state--not to mention an unusually large number of candidacies eager to make their case on the November ballot. In the city's old system, only two candidates in most races advanced out of the low-turnout September primary.
IRV is facing opposition from partisans and incumbents in some jurisdictions, however, as discussed in a blog post by Rob Richie. Incumbents in Pierce County (WA) have put a repeal measure on the November ballot--a decision questioned effectively by Paul Jacob in his syndicated "Common Sense" commentary, and to be opposed by a broadly supported campaign in the county led by the League of Women Voters and members of the charter commission that placed the initial measure on the ballot. Despite record-high turnout and a clear majority winner in the instant runoff round in the mayoral race, Aspen's city council may attempt repeal as well--both council incumbents lost in a nine-candidate race, including the council's leading advocate of IRV who continues to strongly support the system.
Elsewhere, Virginia's largest newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, published an excellent pro-IRV commentary by the New America Foundation's Blair Bobier, and the New York Times published Rob Richie's letter promoting proportional voting as key to cleaning up government. In California, the good government website PublicCEO gave favorable coverage to a AB 1121, a bill allowing certain California cities to participate in a pilot program to use ranked voting systems, writing that the measure "may be the beginning of a long process in seeing this voting method implemented all across the state." AB 1121 passed the Assembly last month and this month passed its first State Senate committee. New America's Steven Hill testified on behalf of the bill, highlighting its potential for cost savings and increases in voter participation, based on San Francisco's experience with successful IRV elections, and Californians for Electoral Reform has developed a broad coalition in favor of the bill.
The National Popular Vote plan keeps moving across the country, with legislation alive in several states. FairVote's Matt Sledge joined NPV advocates at a busy table at the National Conference of State Legislators this month in Philadelphia, while columnist Fran Quigley highlighted FairVote research in the Indianapolis Star. Quigley made the case that despite Indiana's rare turn at political relevance in the 2008 election, the Electoral College remains an "albatross of American democracy," and touted the "ingenious" National Popular Vote plan as a solution to make every vote count. Also, don't miss the analysis of National Popular Vote's John Koza in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
FairVote's July 17th edition of Innovative Analysis takes one step back from the general election to the primaries. As the national parties discuss and debate how best to salvage their broken, convoluted nomination systems, we think it's time to take a serious look at more extensive and comprehensive reforms that will truly fix the process, such as a plan that includes traditional state-based nomination contests culminating in a final, decisive national primary. (Previous editions of this series can be found here.)
FairVote staff and interns took to the road this month to lend a hand to an effort in Lowell (MA) to restore choice voting for their local elections. Our folks added almost 700 new signatures to the ongoing efforts of the exiting grassroots campaign of Fair Vote Lowell
. Since a politically motivated repeal of choice voting in the 1950s, Lowell had used an at-large, winner-take-all system to elect their nine city council members. Choice voting would allow Lowell voters to rank their preferred council candidates and ensure nearly all voters help elect one of their top choices, leading to a more representative and equitable city council.
In Illinois, state legislator and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor David Winters has announced his support for a petition drive to restore cumulative voting for the Illinois House of Representatives. Illinois had used this semi-proportional voting method until 1982, with nearly all three-seat legislative districts in the state electing representatives of more than one party. Winters contends that since its repeal the legislature has become steadily more partisan and less respectful of the voters, a conclusion reached several years ago by a broadly representative commission
in Illinois co-chaired by former Republican governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva.
We've had another great intern crew at FairVote this summer. As some begin their transition back to college and law school, hats off to Forrest Barnum (McGill), Ceridwen Cherry (Harvard), Shomik Gosh (Skidmore College), Alison Meyer (Tufts), Billy Organek (Columbia), Jonathan Parker (University of Missouri-St. Louis), Andrew Price (Wake Forest), Tyler Ray (Catholic University) and Adam Trope (Washington University in St. Louis). We also want to think Matt Sledge for his terrific work running FairVote Rhode Island, which has made remarkable headway since first being staffed two years ago.
To those of you who contributed to our mid-year appeal this summer, our sincere thanks. We were pleased that so many gifts could be matched in full. Donations of course continue to be welcome.