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Policy Solution

The Case for Voter Registration Modernization

Published: January 23, 2013

How can America improve its outdated voting system? The Brennan Center’s signature Voter Registration Modernization proposal would transform voting for the 21st century. It would add up to 50 million to the rolls, cut costs, and curb the potential for error and fraud.

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This nation was founded, in the Declaration of Independence, with the proclamation that we are all “created equal.” Civic equality is at the core of the American creed. On Election Day 2012, the world’s greatest democracy once again showed its power. But Election Day was marred. Citizens who took the responsibility to vote had to stand in lines as long as seven hours. For far too many voters, these delays happened because of problems with the voter registration system. In our national elections, millions of eligible citizens arrive at the polls each election only to find their names are not on the voter rolls — often, wrongly deleted.

Today, the greatest barrier to free, fair, and accessible elections is our ramshackle voter registration system. The current system is based on a blizzard of paper records. Rife with errors, it causes disenfranchisement, confusion, bloated rolls, and long lines on Election Day. It is unacceptable for America to rely on an outdated system that prevents millions of eligible voters from casting a ballot that counts. 

The United States needs a new paradigm for how we register voters. Fortunately, a nonpartisan, common-sense solution is within our grasp: Congress should enact basic national standards to ensure that every citizen who takes responsibility to register and vote can actually vote. Voter Registration Modernization (VRM), at the heart of such reforms, would help give Americans the election system they deserve. 

Voter Registration Modernization requires the government to take responsibility for ensuring that every eligible voter can become and stay a registered voter, using digital technology to pass names of consenting citizens from state agencies to election officials. Citizens would also have the choice to register or update their registration online or at the polls.

VRM would cost less, because computerized records are far easier to keep than today’s chaotic piles of paper. And by increasing the accuracy of our rolls, it would also curb the potential for fraud. VRM provides flexible and secure options for voters from all walks of life to get and stay registered: at government agencies, by mail, or online. And it does so in a way that largely eliminates the errors, frustrations, shenanigans, and bureaucratic snafus that plague the current system.

  • Up to 50 million eligible American citizens would be added to the rolls permanently.
  • States would save money on election administration.
  • The accuracy of our voter rolls would be increased, curbing opportunities for fraud.

Our election system should offer the convenience, flexibility, and security that Americans demand from their banks and their retirement accounts. Every American citizen — whether retired in rural America, living in a high-tech city, studying on campus, or stationed in Afghanistan — should have a fair and equal opportunity to get, and stay, registered to vote. When you move, your registration should move with you. If you’re an eligible voter you should be a registered voter — period. 

Voter Registration Modernization offers a common-sense, non-partisan opportunity to increase both civic participation and election integrity. It embodies the best of American values: choice, freedom, opportunity, and mutual responsibility. Citizens must take the responsibility to vote, but government should do its part by clearing bureaucratic obstacles to the ballot box. Voter Registration Modernization would vastly improve American democracy.

The Case for Voter Registration Modernization