Early Voting Gets Preliminary OK in the District

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 1:35 PM

The D.C. Council gave tentative approval Tuesday to a measure that would allow same-day voter registration as well as early voting in the District starting next year.

The measure, sponsored by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), would also require the city Board of Elections and Ethics to implement a verifiable paper trail.

Cheh's proposal, which won unanimous support Tuesday, would make the District a national leader in efforts to reform the elections process.

If given final approval next month, 17-year-olds would be able to vote in local and federal primaries as long as they will turn 18 by the general election in November. The District would allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they apply for their driver's licenses.

Currently, an eligible voter has to register at least 30 days before an election to participate. The only voters eligible to cast absentee ballots are those who will be out of town on Election Day or are hospitalized or disabled.

Cheh's proposal would allow unregistered people to register at their polling precinct on Election Day. They then would be allowed to vote that same day.

Residents who are already registered will be able to vote early, either through no-fault absentee balloting or at an early voting location.

Critics of Cheh's proposal are raising concerns it could lead to voter fraud. But Cheh noted Milwaukee and several other big cities allow same-day registration.

"The evidence shows same registration can improve voter participation and access," Cheh said. "Let's be very clear, there is no empirical evidence that same-day registration has any connection to fraud."

Cheh's efforts to remove all barriers to voting in the District could go even further.

There is a provision in her legislation calling for a study on whether the city should implement "automatic registration." That means anyone who is eligible to vote would be automatically registered, which Cheh said is common in European democracies.

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