Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Next Big Election Reform Bills

As mentioned earlier, this has been an incredibly busy session of the Nevada Legislature... And we're only halfway through! One fascinating development this session has been Secretary of State Ross Miller's push for election reform. He's been championing SB 63 to create electronic poll books and streamline the process. And in arguing for this, Miller has suggested this will open the door to another major reform.

And now, that other major reform is in play. AB 440 calls for expanded (including same-day) voter registration, and AB 441 sets up election day vote centers not unlike what already happens during early voting. Ross Miller has teamed up with Assembly Member James Ohrenschall (D-Sunrise Manor) to offer these bills. If passed, and especially if passed alongside SB 63, these bills will revolutionize our election system in Nevada.

Miles Rapoport is a former Connecticut Secretary of State, and he's now President of the nonpartisan public policy think tank Demos. Here's what he's had to say about same day registration in his state.

Maine, New Hampshire and seven other states allow citizens to register and vote, or update their existing registrations, on Election Day or during early voting periods. Year after year, these Same Day Registration states lead the nation in voter turnout. As a group, they have boasted average voting rates that are 10 to 12 percentage points higher than non-SDR states. Voter turnout was seven points higher in SDR states than non-SDR states in the 2008 presidential election. When offered the opportunity, voters use Same Day Registration. They will also fight to keep it. Last November, Maine citizens overwhelmingly voted to restore SDR in a so-called "People's Veto" of a Same Day Registration repeal bill that the Maine legislature had passed earlier in the year.

Same Day Registration just makes sense in our highly mobile society, where over 35 million people changed residences in 2011. Many of these individuals learned on Election Day that they could not vote a ballot that would count because they were not properly registered at their new addresses. Our voter registrations don't follow us when we move. Many other eligible voters are just too distracted by the daily demands of work and family to register to vote before the deadline passes.

[... T]he SDR bill, offers a simple solution to these common problems. Just drop by your local registrar's office on Election Day, fill out a voter registration application or update your existing voter registration, show proof of residency, and vote.

It's important to note that Same Day Registration holds special benefit for young people, lower-income voters and voters of color -- segments of the electorate with higher rates of geographic mobility. It's no coincidence that their registration rates lag behind others. Experts predict greater voter turnout increases for these citizens with Same Day Registration.

Other states have already been doing this. And California is next to implement it. Demos has even more 411 on SDR.

[... W]hile many elected officials in states across the country have focused on passing laws that would disenfranchise millions of people and do nothing to improve the voting process--like restrictive voter identification laws--they have neglected to address the most important issues of our democratic access. Our antiquated voter registration rolls are inefficient, inaccurate, and an obstacle to voting for tens of millions of eligible U.S. citizens.

The [February 2012] Pew report finds that 51 million U.S. citizens of voting age--a quarter of the eligible population--are not registered to vote. That means that there is a huge population that is not even able to get to the ballot box. Moreover, millions of people show up at the polls to find they are not on the registration list because of simple flaws in the system.

The report concludes that these problems demonstrate the need for comprehensive voter registration modernization.

The first and most important step that states should take in this regard is to enact Same Day Registration. Analyses have consistently shown that SDR is a measure that increases voter participation dramatically and, importantly, allows people to fix registration problems at the polls on Election Day. States with SDR have had higher voter turnout than those without SDR for over 25 years. Data shows an average voter turnout 7 percentage points higher than the average turnout for non-SDR states in November 2008. The top five states in terms of voter turnout were all SDR states.

We've all seen this. We've seen people who wanted to vote, but couldn't because they missed the deadline. And even some who did register before the deadline still didn't vote because they didn't know where to vote.

How is anyone helped by preventing otherwise legal voters from casting ballots? How does any of us benefit from excluding these people from our democratic process? Think about it.

SDR is more efficient. It may ultimately be quite cost effective. And perhaps most important, this gives more legal citizens the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

So why not just do it already?

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