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How can Amer­ica improve its outdated voting system?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 It is unac­cept­able for Amer­ica to rely on an outdated system that prevents millions of eligible voters from cast­ing a ballot that counts.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