Voter Registration Modernization: Collected Reports and Papers

October 5, 2009

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About the Editor

The 2008 election exposed fissures in our outdated voter registration system. Developed in the nineteenth century, the system is ill-equipped to keep pace with twenty-first century political engagement. At the same time, the election sparked an eruption of civic energy. Together, these developments provide a perfect impetus for a long-needed structural upgrade to our voting system.

There is an emerging bipartisan consensus on the best approach to modernization. Experts, election officials, and policy-makers are urging a common-sense, cost-efficient way to update our outmoded, voter-initiated, paper-based registration system. The proposed plan would simplify the registration process and bring as many as 65 million eligible Americans into the electoral process. At the same time, it would ease burdens on election officials and make our voting system less susceptible to fraud and less expensive for taxpayers.

This compendium presents a sampling of ten of the Brennan Center's recent publications, which contribute intellectual ballast to the bipartisan movement to modernize voter registration. The papers expose problems and offer solutions, identify real-world models and offer tangible next steps to improve our registration system for both voters and election officials.
Several critical conclusions:

  • In other major democracies, the government takes on the responsibility of compiling and keeping an accurate list of eligible voters.
  • Such systems cost less and are far less susceptible to error and abuse.
  • Fortunately, already-existing government databases in every state could easily be the basis for compiling a complete and accurate list of eligible adult citizens. Under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, states already now have computerized voter lists. Other agencies are able to provide data to be shared with voter registration lists.
  • In a modern system, registration would be permanent - voters would not fall off the rolls simply by moving. In fact, eight states already have permanent registration, and this reform works well.
  • A modernized system would avoid bloated rolls and many problems of the existing approach - for example, problems from unaccountable backroom purges of lists.

We trust that these publications will prove useful to policymakers, advocates, learned observers, and citizens who believe that we can continue to do better.
Read the full array of Brennan Center materials on voter registration.


About the Editor

Wendy Weiser directs the Brennan Center's work on voting rights and elections. During the run-up to the 2004 and 2006 elections, she masterminded litigation and advocacy efforts that kept hundreds of thousands of voters from being disenfranchised. She has authored a number of reports and papers on election reform; litigated ground-breaking voting rights lawsuits; and provided policy and legislative drafting assistance to federal and state legislators and administrators across the country. She is a frequent public speaker and media contributor on election reform issues. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Ms. Weiser was a senior attorney at NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (presently called Legal Momentum), a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and a law clerk to Judge Eugene H. Nickerson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Ms. Weiser received her J.D. from Yale Law School and her B.A. from Yale College.