A new trend in voting rights?

May 7, 2012

At a time when many states are restricting voters’ ability to cast ballots (via voter ID laws, limiting early voting, restricting registration drives, and other measures), at least two states have been working to make the process easier for voters.

Connecticut recently passed same-day voter registration and online registration, while Hawaii passed an online voter registration bill. The bills will head to the governor in each of those states for a signature.

Miles Rapoport of Demos, former Connecticut legislator and Secretary of State, wrote in an op-ed over the weekend:

Same Day Registration just makes sense in our highly mobile society, where over 35 million people changed residences in 2011. Many of these individuals learned on Election Day that they could not vote a ballot that would count because they were not properly registered at their new addresses. Our voter registrations don’t follow us when we move.

It’s important to note that Same Day Registration holds special benefit for young people, lower-income voters and voters of color — segments of the electorate with higher rates of geographic mobility. It’s no coincidence that their registration rates lag behind others. Experts predict greater voter turnout increases for these citizens with Same Day Registration.

Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center recently wrote in the New York Times that the tide might be turning on voting rights, and more emphasis now should be placed on modernizing the voter registration system, citing Pew Center on the States’ report on voter registration modernization:

The best solution is to fix our paper-based voter registration system. As the Pew Center on the States notes, millions of names are out of date or duplicated. Some deceased voters even remain on the rolls. Voter registration modernization could unite the combatants in the “voting wars.”

So yes, we should repel the push to make voting harder for millions of Americans. If lawmakers really want to protect the integrity of our elections, modernizing our registration system is the answer.

The bills present a welcome shift from restrictive measures that have dominated some of the conversations around voting over the past year, though there is still much work to be done pushing back against further restrictions in several states. However, Connecticut and Hawaii have shown that positive measures that create easier access to the ballot for eligible voters is a real possibility, while Pew’s report and Brennan Center’s work show that there are pathways to modernizing the way we register voters that ensures everyone who is eligible can cast a ballot.