Can the US Register Every Voter?

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289
Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318

Can the US Register Every Voter?

Sixteen-country study provides blueprint for US modernization plan

NEW YORK - A
new study of sixteen countries shows that in nearly every democracy
surveyed, government helps assure that every eligible citizen is
registered to vote. If the United States were to modernize voter
registration in this way, it would add between 50 and 65 million
citizens to the rolls.

Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World is
the most comprehensive examination of voter registration systems around
the world. It comes after the 2008 election, which saw rising civic
participation but in which two-to-three million voters could not cast
ballots because of registration problems, according to a recent study. 
The Brennan Center and other voting rights groups have urged Congress
to consider legislation to modernize the U.S. voter registration
system. Already, the Senate Rules Committee has held hearings on voter
registration problems and is currently examining the issue.

>>Click here to download the report.

 "We
look at our antiquated voting system, and assume it simply must be this
way. This study shows that we can register a far higher portion of the
population, at less cost to taxpayers," said Michael Waldman, executive
director of the Brennan Center. "Can America build a system where every
eligible citizen is registered?  Most other democracies already have. 
New technology will allow us to, as well."

Among the findings:

  • Canada,
    with a decentralized federal system similar to ours, automatically adds
    every 18 year old and   other citizens to its voter rolls.  All told,
    less than one in ten Canadians is unregistered, compared with
    one-quarter to one-third of eligible U.S. citizens not on the voter
    rolls.  Canada continually updates voter lists with data from other
    government agencies, a practice followed in several countries studied.
  • Canada
    saves $30 million Canadian dollars ($27 million American dollars) each
    election cycle since it converted to a modern, computer-driven system a
    decade ago.
  • Of
    the sixteen jurisdictions studied, the United States is one of only
    five democracies to place the full onus on individual citizens to
    register to vote. (The others are the Bahamas, Belize, Burundi and
    Mexico.)
  • Most
    countries have failsafe mechanisms for voters to correct the
    information on the rolls. Canada, for example, allows Election Day
    corrections so voters can update their information and assure they are
    on the rolls.  This is similar to Election Day Registration now used in
    eight U.S. states.

"We
now know we can build a more modern voter registration system in the
United States," said Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Center's
Democracy Program.  "Technological breakthroughs such as new statewide
computerized voting lists make it possible for the first time. The
experiences of these other democracies are very encouraging."

Expanding Democracy continues the Brennan Center's ongoing publication series on voter registration modernization. Last year it proposed
a system in which the states would register all citizens, automatically
and permanently.  In coming weeks, the Brennan Center will release
policy briefs exploring aspects of reform, including monographs showing
how some states permanently register voters, how the Selective Service
system automatically registers young men for its purposes, and other
topics. 

"Congress
is dealing with many pressing issues. But enhancing people's trust in
our electoral system is critical as we work to solve the country's
long-term problems. Modernizing voter registration is a key systemic
reform that will strengthen democracy and help to assure voters that
our system works.  Voter registration modernization should be a key
priority as Congress considers the next wave of reforms later this
session," said Susan Liss, the director of the Brennan Center's
Democracy Program. 

Expanding Democracy is
authored by Jennifer Rosenberg, a Voting Rights and Elections Fellow,
with Margaret Chen, a Senior Research Associate in the Brennan Center's
Democracy Program. Ms. Rosenberg is now working at the National Center
for State Courts in Kosovo.

For
more information or to set up an interview with Michael Waldman, Wendy
Weiser or Susan Liss, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at
212-998-6289 or jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu or Susan Lehman at 212-998-6318 or susan.lehman@nyu.edu.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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