Universal voter registration and Election Day registration will eliminate provisional ballots

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

I have been arguing for some time in favor of the "universal voter registration" proposals from the Brennan Center for Justice. Voter Registration Modernization | Brennan Center for Justice.

In a universal voter registration system, it would be the
government's obligation to ensure that every eligible citizen was
registered to vote. Individual citizens could opt out if they wished,
but the registration process itself would no longer serve as a barrier
to the right to vote.

Here are some of the important ways that
federal policy can and should encourage the states to improve on the
current voter registration system:

1. Mandate that the states put systems in place that would phase in universal voter registration, while preserving the states' ability to experiment with different systems.

2. Require states to immediately implement permanent registration, so that voters wouldn't have to re-register if they moved within a state.

3. Require states to implement Election Day registration, as a fail-safe mechanism for eligible voters missing from the voter rolls for any reason.

4. Provide the federal funding that states would need to ensure that every eligible voter is registered.

The United States’ leading prosecutor on civil rights issues wants the
country to join the majority of other democratic nations when it comes
to voting, by making the government – instead of the voter – responsible
for registering voters. Automatic voter registration a top priority for some reformers (Palm Beach Post):

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the Department
of Justice’s civil rights division, is one among a variety of activists
and federal officials and lawmakers who say long lines and other
problems encountered by voters throughout the nation this fall need to
resolved by the federal government if not the states.

The
modernization of voter registration is one of several proposals Perez
made in a speech last week at a George Washington Law Review symposium
attended by election law and voting experts from around the country.

“Under
our current system, many voters must follow needlessly complex and
varied voter registration rules,” he said. “And every election season,
state and local officials have to manually process a crush of new
applications – most of them handwritten – leaving the system riddled
with errors, and, too often, creating chaos at the polls. That’s exactly
what we saw at a number of polling places on Election Day.”

According
to a Pew Center on the States study published in February, voter
registration databases are riddled with errors
. More than 1.8 million
deceased individuals were listed as voters, nearly 2.8 million were
registered in more than one state, and more than 12 million records had
incorrect addresses, the study found.

That study also found that only one in four eligible Americans are registered to vote.

Three
elections experts who were panelists at the Washington symposium said
Congress should seriously consider the solutions proposed by Perez.

* * *

States and the federal government already collect a plethora of data
about citizens for driver’s licenses, state identification cards, food
stamps, housing aid and other services other programs. Governments could
create more accurate voter rolls by expanding the databases and then
contacting individuals whose information is wrong as well as people who
are eligible but not registered, Fortier said
.

The databases could
also flag ineligible voters, including potential noncitizens that were
the target of a controversial voter purge pushed by Florida Gov. Rick
Scott this year.

* * *

Some states automatically register people to vote when they get a
driver license or state identification card
. Florida’s motor-voter law
doesn’t automatically register people to vote, but it does ask them if
they want to be registered. Streamlining registration ultimately saves
money, said Myrna Perez, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice,
which includes registration modernization in its election-law reforms.

A
Brennan Center analysis in 2009 found that 75 percent of countries and
Canadian provinces — including Germany, Sweden and Argentina —
automatically register citizens as they become adults and eligible to
vote
. Voters in just five of the 20 countries and provinces surveyed,
including the U.S., Mexico and the Bahamas, must initiate registration.

Perez, who is not related to the assistant U.S. attorney general,
said voter registration issues prompted the vast majority of calls from
voters to a nonpartisan election protection hotline this year
. Those
problems led to logjams, she said.

“It’s people not being on the
rolls when they thought they were, or people not being registered
anymore when they thought they were,” Perez said. “That causes confusion
at the polls. Then they eventually get a provisional ballot.”

Every
time a pollworker cannot find a voter on the list, check them off and
get them in the booth, that increases lines, she said.

Short of automatic registration, voters should at least be able to register to vote on Election Day, she said.

The eight states that have Election Day registration in place have
higher voter participation than the rest of the nation
. And five of
those states had the highest turnout in the country, Thomas Perez said.

* * *

The assistant attorney general said the Department of Justice is still reviewing the federal monitors’ observations.

“But
there is at least one obvious takeaway, which the country has spent
much of the last week discussing: There were widespread breakdowns in
election administration in state after state, which forced voters in
many states to wait in line for hours at a time – in some states and
counties, up to six hours or more,” Perez said
.

He also said
voters who move should be allowed to cast regular ballots rather than
provisional ballots, which have a greater chance of being discarded and
take longer to process. Under a new law in Florida passed by lawmakers
last year, voters who moved from one county to another without updating
their registration in the new county were required to cast provisional
ballots rather than regular ballots as the old law permitted.

Perez
also called for a crackdown on “deceptive election practices,” such as
robocalls received by voters around the country telling them they could
vote by telephone or that Election Day had been postponed. [Or telling them the wrong day, as the Jeff Flake campaign did in Arizona.]

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in September sponsored a “Voter
Empowerment” bill that mirrors a Democratic-backed U.S. House proposal
that includes a registration modernization component. But prospects of
bipartisan support are dim.

That does not mean the state of Arizona cannot do this on its own volition. Making voter registration permanent, transportable (no need to reregister when you move), and correctable on election day with Election Day registration will require state legislation. If Secretary of State Ken "Birther" Bennett and members of the Arizona legislature are serious about election reforms to address the problems evident in Arizona on Election Day, voter registration is the place to start.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced a bill they're calling the "Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely
(FAST) Voting Act."
Under their proposal, states that "aggressively"
pursue election reforms would be rewarded with federal grants. The FAST Act is roughly modeled after the Race to the Top education initiative — it's a competitive grant program.

Contact your newly elected state legisltors now. Legislation markup is currently underway, and I am told that the Democratic Caucus is meeting next week.

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