With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new.
Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democratic viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just to present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half! The topic this week: Automatic Voter Registration.
If you’re too lazy to fill out the voter registration forms, I don’t feel bad about you missing your chance to vote this time around. Crazy idea: register now so you’ll be ready for the next election! Just like voting itself, registering is a decision that people make. The system’s failings overshadow the attempted convenience of trying to make the voting system automatic. Automatic voter registration augments voter rolls, thereby increasing the risk of voter fraud with uncertain effects on voter turnout.
Risks of voter fraud are amplified as voter rolls are filled with people that have no intention to vote in any election: workers staying in the state for only a short time, and college students who can vote again in their home districts. There is also no dependable method to ensure that all automatically registered voters are legal U.S. citizens. Twelve states including California, Washington, Maryland, and Utah issue licenses to non-US citizens if applicants provide specific documentation.
Oregon’s OMV was declared responsible for 1.3% of the 4.3% increase in voter turnout in 2016. Nevertheless, automatic voter registration in the United States is still in its early stages and as such, there is little data on its impact and whether these results are indicative or systems elsewhere. On the other hand, in the 1990s Canada implemented a similar automatic registration process to Oregon with an “opt out” option. While only about 1-2% of people opted out of registration, voter turnout did not increase but actually decreased.
Automatic voter registration has potential upsides. I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.
The United States should encourage all eligible citizens to vote. Voting is a right that is guaranteed to all citizens; promoting this right is sensible and would make elections more fair. Currently, many voters are disenfranchised at the polls because they are not registered to vote, and therefore are not allowed to cast a ballot on election day. If all citizens were included in Automatic Voter Registration, there would be a more diverse voting population that would more accurately represent the citizens in each state. The degree of difficulty in registering to vote disenfranchises eligible voters who do not realize they have to register to vote in advance of election day or are unable to access the paper form.
The current system for registering to vote is antiquated. It requires downloading a form and sending it to the voter registration bureau, or visiting in-person a voter registration site. The forms are handwritten, which leaves room for error, and are sent through the mail before they sit on a government official’s desk for an extended period of time. Any of these steps increase the chance of human error in voter registration. This would also decrease the occurrence of voter fraud, since it mitigates the many errors that can happen with paper registration forms.
The cost of maintaining this automatic voter registration system is significantly less than the price of the current system. For example, in Arizona, registering to vote costed 83 cents per voter using the current paper system; once Arizona adopted the new electronic automatic registration system, it only cost 3 cents per voter applicant. Personally, I believe that even if the system were more expensive, the benefits outweigh any detriments. With Automatic Voter Registration, voting is more accessible and the potential for voter fraud is reduced significantly. It also reduces the chances of citizens appearing at voting booths prepared to vote, only to find out that they did not register in time. It is important for every citizen to exercise her civic duty by voting. The automated system makes that much easier. In California, there were 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters. That is in one state! Imagine the number of voters across the entire United States who are unregistered who otherwise might vote during election season.
As of this month, D.C. and nine other states have Automatic Voter Registration. Almost all other states have introduced proposals or have had proposals introduced in the past in favor of Automatic Voter Registration. Clearly we are moving in the right direction!