Today, the Pew Center on the States released a report detailing some of the serious flaws in our voter registration systems, the lynchpin of election administration. Their study reaffirms what election administrators and voter advocates have known for a long time — that the voter rolls are filled with errors, and an unconscionable percentage (almost a quarter, according to Pew) of American citizens who are eligible to vote are not registered.
The flaws identified in the Pew study are the result of an outdated, paper- based voter registration system that is not only inefficient and costly, but prone to inaccuracy. Worse, the clunky system leaves off millions of eligible voters or contains errors in their records that could prevent them from voting effectively. The question is no longer whether we should upgrade the system, but how we should do so. Recent technological innovations point the way to the solution: modernizing the system.
The Brennan Center’s voter registration modernization proposal would address all the problems identified by the Pew study. Our plan includes automated registration of eligible voters at other governmental agencies (automatically transferring the records of consenting citizens to election authorities), online registration and access (enabling citizens to register to vote or check and update their registration online), permanent state registration (ensuring that a voter’s registration record moves with her when she moves within a state), and an Election Day failsafe to correct any errors and omissions. Experiences in the states demonstrate that our plan increases accuracy and registration rates, saves money, and minimizes the potential for fraud. The Brennan Center has developed a model state bill, and numerous states have already adopted components of voter registration modernization.
Voter registration is the first step to voting, the most important civic duty that Americans have. It is simply unacceptable for our modern democracy to rely on an incomplete, outdated, inaccurate, and expensive voter registration system like that used in many parts of the country. We should be a model of election administration, not lagging behind other democracies.
To be clear, Pew’s findings do not justify the restrictive voting policies we see being passed in some states. It is not easy or strategic to impersonate someone at the polls. Rather than erecting barriers between eligible American citizens and their right to vote, we should be opening pathways to a modern voting system.
Voter registration modernization is essential to help bring election administration into the 21st century, and states should take advantage of all opportunities, including the Pew technology, to move closer to voter registration modernization.