Voter registration could be automatic

April 8, 2013

The Oregonian editorialized over the weekend about voting in that state (via Hasen):

Secretary of State Kate Brown has a proposal, based on what Oregon has learned over two decades’ experience with the mail ballot: Getting to vote should be easy, not hard.

Brown has introduced House Bill 2198, which would allow the state to automatically register any Oregonian when a state agency already has their name, age, address and digital signature. Right now that means Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, but it could extend to other agencies. Following this system in other places achieves registration of more than 90 percent of eligible voters.

Just using DMV records, Brown estimates that another 500,000 Oregonians would get the power to decide, at the end of October or the beginning of November, that a candidate has finally inspired or annoyed them enough to make them decide to vote.

It’s a right they should have.

There’s absolutely no good reason for such proposals not to be adopted — and not just state-by-state, either. There’s no good reason for the burden of voter registration to be on the voter, instead of on the government.

Indeed, the United States is unusual in making it hard by requiring a two-step process for eligible voters — that is, registering and then voting. Most world democracies have automatic registration. And nineteenth century United States didn’t have any voter registration at all. It worked just fine, just as having no voter registration works just fine in North Dakota right now.

To do it any other way — to place the burden on the voter — is useful for only one reason: if you want to keep people from voting. That’s it. And it’s effective! Especially among those who move often, which tends to be those who are younger and poorer than those who stay in the same place for longer.

Don’t listen to anyone who gives you any other reason. Voter registration is hard in most states because someone who didn’t want people to vote passed a law. That’s the only reason, and it’s a lousy one in a democracy.

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Jonathan Bernstein | April 8, 2013