Over the last decade, there has been increased national momentum in favor of Election Day registration (“EDR”). Of the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, with EDR, more than half have enacted it within the past 10 years. In the current legislative session alone, 16 states are considering bills to establish or expand registration opportunities on Election Day. It’s time for Vermont to join this movement by passing Senate Bill 29 (“S.29”), which would bring EDR to the Green Mountain State.
As states with EDR can attest, allowing citizens to register and update their registration status on Election Day is great for voters. First, it is a proven way to increase turnout. According to Demos, in the 2012 election, four of the five states with the highest voter turnout offered voters the opportunity to register and vote on the same day, and average voter turnout was 10 percentage points higher in such states. Second, EDR reduces the need for provisional ballots, which too often go uncounted. For example, Iowa saw a 67 percent drop in provisional ballots after implementing EDR.
EDR is so popular among voters that they consistently resist efforts to roll it back. In 2011, Maine lawmakers tried to eliminate EDR, but Mainers came out in full force to approve a ballot measure blocking that attempt. Last year, Montana voters showed their support for EDR by soundly rejecting a ballot measure that sought to eliminate the practice.
States with EDR see benefits beyond increased voter participation. Because EDR voters register in the presence of election officials, it ensures ballot security. Former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie called the use of EDR a “no-brainer” when it comes to integrity. And, because EDR decreases provisional ballots, election workers are saved the time and hassle of determining how to handle these ballots. A 2007 study found that because EDR spreads registration work out over a longer period of time, it minimizes the pre-deadline crush of registrants ordinarily experienced by election officials. From a cost perspective, states with EDR systems saw only minimal implementation costs.
By passing S.29, the legislature can bring these benefits to Vermont. The bill would allow Vermonters to register or update their registration at their poll site on Election Day, so that the ballots of all eligible voters will count. Presently, if a voter registered before the deadline, but her name does not appear on the voter checklist on Election Day, she must swear an affidavit at the polling place confirming her attempt at previous registration. If clerks later confirm that the voter was properly registered, then the ballot is counted. This affidavit option is not available to voters whose registration was misplaced, or who were unable to register before the deadline. And, these affidavit voters leave the polling place on Election Day not knowing whether their ballot will ultimately count. EDR would remove that uncertainty.
Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Government Operations approved S.29. The full Senate should pass the bill — which has the full support of the secretary of state’s office — when it considers it later this week, and the House should then send the measure to the governor’s desk.
Before long, public attention will turn to the 2016 presidential election. For those Vermonters who fail to register by the deadline, however, they will lose their vote. Now is the time to seize the national momentum in favor of EDR by finally passing this bill to increase voting access equally for all of Vermont’s voters.