Can We Get Some Small-d Democracy?
I have long advocated for a strong pro-democracy agenda to repair and strengthen our broken electoral system. The needs are many--from creating an Election Day holiday, to requiring voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper trail, to re-enfranchising former felons who have served their sentences, to public campaign financing.
Just this past week, when my 18 year old daughter was back from college for fall break and told me it was too complicated to go register this Tuesday, I realized why we need another important reform I've written about for these last few years--same day voter registration.
Last week, the Same Day Registration Act was introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (S.1986) and Congressman Keith Ellison (H.R. 3957) requiring states to provide for same day registration (SDR). With SDR, a citizen who misses a voter registration deadline can register at the polls on Election Day or the period leading up to it, and then cast a valid ballot.
Voting participation in the US averages an abysmal 50 percent for presidential elections and 40 percent for congressional elections. SDR has already proven it makes a real difference.
In the 2008 election, the top five states for voter turnout were Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire, and Iowa. All had a turnout of 70 percent or more and all have same day registration. A total of nine states currently allow for it--the others are Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, and Wyoming.
"In these states, some of which have used SDR for 35 years, voter participation rates in Presidential Elections are consistently 7 to 12 percentage points higher than in states without [the] law," said Miles Rapoport, President of Demos, a national public policy center that has studied and advocated for Same Day Registration for nearly a decade.
"Election Day registration is a prime example of sensible modernization of our voter registration system," said Rob Richie, a Nation contributor and Executive Director of FairVote. "Voter registration should be about running efficient and secure elections and never a barrier to fair access to participation. With today's statewide voter registration databases and modern technology, we can make election day registration work as a complement to steps to establish full and accurate voter rolls."
Senator Feingold and Congressman Ellison both pointed to SDR's success in their states and the logic of making it standard practice for federal elections.
"Helping more Americans exercise their right to vote is in the best interests of our democracy," Senator Feingold said. "The system in Wisconsin, which allows for same day registration, has worked well for more than 30 years and is a major reason why Wisconsin is a national leader in voter turnout....We should take action to get more people involved in the political process and same day registration is a proven way to do it."
"Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter turnout-usually over 70 percent," Congressman Ellison said. "We do so because in Minnesota our right to vote is a sacred right and a moral obligation.... Enacting a National Election Day Registration law would do for the nation what same day registration has done for our state-give a voice to all who want to vote."
The bills currently have four cosponsors in the Senate, and five in the House. This is an important step to help put our nation on the path to a more perfect union. Tell your legislators to support this legislation.
© 2009 The Nation