On May 8, Delaware’s House Administration Committee voted 3–0 to send an Election Day Registration (EDR) bill for a House vote. H.B. 105, backed by Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, would amend the state’s existing 24-day voter registration deadline to allow eligible citizens to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day. Because EDR would increase voter turnout and provide a fail-safe alternative for voters who encounter problems at the polls, the House and Senate should act quickly to pass this bill before the legislative session adjourns at the end of June.
Currently, nine states plus the District of Columbia offer EDR, while two other states — California and Connecticut — have passed legislation providing for EDR that have not yet gone into effect. States that have had EDR in effect consistently lead the nation in voter turnout, with average rates in the 2012 election ten percentage points higher than states without.
These statistics make sense because EDR lowers barriers to voting caused by arbitrary registration deadlines and registration records that don’t follow voters who move. Some state deadlines to register to vote are several weeks before Election Day, before press coverage, campaigns, and public interest are at their highest levels. Moreover, EDR can help engage certain populations with lower turnout rates, including young people, low-income voters, and voters of color — segments of the electorate that tend to have higher rates of geographic mobility.
Not only would EDR broaden the electorate, it would also provide a fail-safe for voters who might have otherwise been prevented from voting due to inaccurate records or administrative errors. A national study found that various registration problems kept up to three million people from voting in 2008. With EDR, those who have moved and not updated their registration, or whose names have been mistakenly left off the rolls, or whose registrations were lost in the mail or not timely processed, can register to vote or correct an outdated record, and still vote a regular ballot.
Encouragingly, H.B. 105 is only one example of the growing trend to expand access to registration and voting. This session, at least 25 states have introduced bills, and Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico, Maryland and Colorado have passed bills, that would upgrade the registration process. More and more, states are recognizing that many of our nation’s Election Day problems can be ameliorated by modernizing and streamlining voter registration.
After a year in which some states earned dubious distinctions for their attempts to scale back voting rights, Delaware is quickly becoming a trailblazer in modernized voter registration. The state currently has important features of Automated Registration and Portability in place, and recently announced plans to implement fully paperless Online Registration.
But there is even more that can be done. More than 200,000 eligible Delawareans did not vote in the November 2012 election. Successful passage of EDR would help encourage more citizens to register and turn out, and help ensure that eligible voters are not wrongly turned away from the polls. Delaware lawmakers should pass H.B. 105 and seize this opportunity to make the state a national leader on election reform.
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