7 Ways to Universal Voter Registration
The right to vote and to cast a free and secret ballot is the heart of American democracy. Yet, every election, millions of Americans are shut out of this simple, yet powerful act of citizenship for no other reason than they are not registered to vote. In fact, while complete and accurate voter rolls are the international norm, in the U.S. nearly 1 out of every 3 eligible citizens are not registered and thus unable to vote on Election Day.
To some this might sound shocking, but a simple examination of our voting system reveals why so many Americans are not registered to vote. Voter registration is a voluntary act, much like voting itself. Neither the federal, state nor local governments are required to register citizens. Instead, state and local boards of election rely on individual citizens, non-partisan and partisan voter registration organizations, and political parties to register voters. Not surprisingly, this decentralized system leaves many unregistered.
Moreover, current voter registration practices invite voter registration fraud. This decentralized voter registration system is a chief reason for why fictitious names appear on voter rolls, voters are doubly registered, and partisan organizations can manipulate voter rolls. For example, during the 2004 election, a partisan organization in Nevada actually threw away voter registration forms filled out by citizens who supported the opposing party.
Fortunately, elections are not destined to suffer from these ailments. There is no need to rely on a voter registration system that is deficient and unable to create full and accurate voter rolls. To correct this situation, FairVote has developed a list of seven commonsense recommendations that can be adopted on a federal, state or local basis to move the United States closer to 100% registration.
1. Use existing government databases to automatically register all citizens to vote.
2. Create a fail safe policy to ensure voters left off the rolls can register and vote on Election Day.
3. Set a uniform voter registration age of 16-years-old to systematically register youth. Tie this policy with a national "voting curriculum" in every high school.
4. Require U.S. citizens to register to vote when completing taxes or actively opt-out of the process.
5. Tie Post Office Change of Address forms to the voter registration database
6. Require state or local governments to send every residence a notice of those registered at that location. Residents may then make changes as needed and return the updated form.
7. Provide every U.S. citizen, upon birth or after naturalization, a voter registration number similar to a social security number to be used in all elections and activated when a voter turns 18.