The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Americans want to make it easier — not harder — to vote

By wide margins, Americans say “too few people voting” is a major problem in the election system and voice support for measures that would make it easier to vote, including automatic voter registration.

In a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 67 percent of the public said too few people voting was a major problem, with bipartisan agreement from 58 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats. More Americans cited it as a concern than any other issue, including foreign interference, media bias, the influence of wealthy individuals and votes cast by ineligible people.

But the survey shows gaps between Democrats and Republicans on key areas of concern. Eighty-two percent of Democrats, for instance, said the influence of wealthy individuals and corporations was a major issue, a concern shared by 42 percent of Republicans. Republicans, for their part, were much more concerned (81 percent) than Democrats (41 percent) with the issue of media bias against certain candidates.

Despite the support for automatic voter registration, however, it is worth pointing out that most Americans also support restrictions on access, like voter ID laws. A 2016 Gallup poll, for instance, found that 4 in 5 voters supported voter ID provisions.

Taken together, the PRRI and Gallup numbers show that when it comes to voting rights, the typical voter may occupy a space that does not align neatly with either Democratic or Republican orthodoxy: a preference for expanding voting access as much as possible but with safeguards in place to verify who is voting.

In line with the shared concern over too few people voting, the PRRI survey found broad support for a number of policies intended to expand voting access. More than 70 percent of Americans, including 64 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats, say people convicted of felonies should be able to vote after they have served their sentences. More than two-thirds, including 52 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats, supported a policy that would automatically enroll citizens to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles in their state.

And 61 percent, including 42 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats, support allowing citizens to register and vote on the same day.

Voter preferences on these issues are notable for being considerably more permissive than the laws in many states. Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia offer same-day registration and voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twelve states plus D.C. have enacted automatic registration. In 13 states, people convicted of felonies may lose their voting rights indefinitely, require an official pardon or face additional restrictions and waiting times before they can vote after serving their sentences.