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4 Simple Ways to Improve Voting

In 2014, our voting system is still stuck in the 19th century. America must modernize it—and finally bring it into the digital age.

  • DeNora Getachew
Published: October 29, 2014

Cross-posted on News­day

Elec­tion Day is just a few days away and voters have begun to focus on what’s at stake. But in New York and many states, if you have not registered to vote by now, it is already too late—you will not be able to cast a ballot on Tues­day. What’s more, in the Empire State and more than a dozen others there is no way to vote in person before Elec­tion Day.

In 2014, our voting system is still stuck in the 19th century. Amer­ica must modern­ize it—and finally bring it into the digital age. This can be done by stream­lin­ing voter regis­tra­tion and increas­ing early voting oppor­tun­it­ies. Modern­iz­a­tion would add 50 million new voters to the rolls, reduce costs, and curb the poten­tial for fraud. Here’s how it works.

1. Revamp voter regis­tra­tion.

The system relies heav­ily on pen-and-paper forms, which lead to typos and errors in regis­tra­tion records. Adding more elec­tronic options would help get more voters on the rolls and keep them there by increas­ing accur­acy and effi­ciency.

For instance, online regis­tra­tion allows eligible citizens to register­—and to more easily check and update their record­s—­through a secure online portal. New York offers online regis­tra­tion to those with a Depart­ment of Motor Vehicles iden­ti­fic­a­tion, but that should be expan­ded to include more eligible citizens. If voters can bank and shop online, it makes no sense that they cannot register to vote online, too.

2. Undergo a tech face-lift.

We can upgrade tech­no­logy at govern­ment offices to help citizens register to vote. When voters inter­act with the Depart­ment of Motor Vehicles and other agen­cies, those offices should trans­fer regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion elec­tron­ic­ally to elec­tion offi­cials.

This would create a seam­less exper­i­ence for the voter, since the regis­tra­tion would take place as part of an under­ly­ing trans­ac­tion. Although many state agen­cies are required to offer this oppor­tun­ity under federal law, they still rely on analog systems.

In New York City, for example, voters are supposed to be offered the oppor­tun­ity to register when they inter­act with 18 city agen­cies.

But accord­ing to a review by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and other nonprofits, that seldom happens. In 84 percent of inter­ac­tions, agency offi­cials failed to give citizens the oppor­tun­ity to register.

The groups issued recom­mend­a­tions, includ­ing imple­ment­ing elec­tronic regis­tra­tion and other reforms.

3. Imple­ment same-day regis­tra­tion.

State laws need to be changed to include more time to register. Most states cut off regis­tra­tion weeks before an elec­tion—­be­fore many voters are even paying atten­tion. That leaves too many citizens outside the demo­cratic process. Instead, voters should be allowed to show up on Elec­tion Day to register or to update their regis­tra­tion status and cast a ballot. This turnout-boost­ing reform would provide much-needed flex­ib­il­ity for today’s mobile soci­ety.

4. Bring about early voting.

We need to create more options to vote early, some­thing even Pres­id­ent Barack Obama did earlier this month. Confin­ing voting to a single day does not account for the real­it­ies of modern life. New York is one of only 18 states nation­wide that does not give every eligible citizen a chance to vote in person before Elec­tion Day. Early voting helps elec­tion offi­cials by redu­cing stress on the system and short­en­ing lines on Elec­tion Day, and it helps voters by improv­ing access.

It’s time to modern­ize

Modern­iz­ing our anti­quated system would help voters and elec­tion offi­cials alike. Hope­fully, when legis­lat­ive sessions begin next year, lead­ers in New York and other state­houses will take steps to modern­ize our laws to ensure voting is free, fair and widely access­ible to all eligible citizens.

(Photo: Flickr/david­jdal­ley)