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Signing up on National Voter Registration Day

By Matthew Weil

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Americans vote a lot. We vote for our president and vice president directly (mostly, at least compared to parliamentary systems); we choose a federal representative and two senators (except in the District of Columbia and territories); our votes decide our representation at the local, county, and state level; and citizens in many states also have a say over constitutional amendments and bond charters. In some cases, our ballots are really, really long.

But you won’t get to participate in any of these contests if you are not registered to vote.

Today is the fifth annual National Voter Registration Day. Are you registered to vote?

The Bipartisan Policy Center hosts the continuing work of the 2013-2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The commission, chaired by former presidential campaign general counsels for Republicans and Democrats along with local and state election officials from across the country, identified voter registration as one of the fundamental underpinnings of our election system:

Accurate voter lists are essential to the management of elections. Keeping track is a Herculean task. On Election Day 2012, the registration system had 191.8 million records and 130.3 million voters managed by officials in 50 states and approximately 8,000 local election offices, with the lists used at 186,000 precincts.

National Voter Registration Day is a good opportunity to reflect on how far our nation’s voting infrastructure has come in just five years.

In order to streamline voter registration systems and to improve both their accuracy and integrity, the Commission offered two recommendations:

1. States should adopt online voter registration, and

2. Interstate exchanges of voter registration information should be expanded.

Since the PCEA began its work, the number of states offering online voter registration has doubled to 39. Online voter registration has many benefits. Among them are that the method reduces the error potential inherent with paper-based systems, it costs less to administer, it increases the accuracy of the voter rolls leading to fewer delays at the polls, and that it improves the voter experience. Voters in 2017 expect to be able to register to vote online, the way we conduct much of the other business in our lives. A few big states remain on the path toward national adoption of online voter registration. BPC in the years to come will continue to educate policymakers, legislators, and administrators about the many benefits and nonexistent drawbacks of online voter registration.

The PCEA also called for the expansion of interstate exchanges of voter registration information. This sharing of data leads to cleaner, more accurate rolls. The data in some cases identify individuals who are eligible to vote by not yet registered, which allows states to reach out proactively to increase access to the polls. BPC has long been involved in efforts to improve and expand interstate data sharing, including at a meeting we will be hosting next week that will bring together election officials from across the country.

National Voter Registration Day is a good opportunity to reflect on how far our nation’s voting infrastructure has come in just five years. But at the individual level, all Americans must make it incumbent on themselves to make sure they can participate in their next regularly scheduled election. And that means registering to vote. Do it today and we’ll see you at the polls soon!

KEYWORDS: PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON ELECTION ADMINISTRATION, ELECTION DAY, VOTER REGISTRATION, ONLINE VOTER REGISTRATION, NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION DAY