June 3, 2009

Allow Procrastinators The Right To Vote

A PRESIDENTIAL candidate supported by fewer than 1 in 3 voting-age citizens, might be considered a laughingstock in many countries. In the United States, we know him by a different name: President Obama.

Despite winning more than twice as many electoral votes as John McCain, the fact remains that only about 30 percent of adult citizens actually voted for our nation's president. And 2008 was a notably high turnout election year.

In 1992, a quarter of the country voted Bill Clinton into office. Just 26 percent of Americans sent Richard Nixon on a path toward infamy. In other words, nearly 90 million of the 120 million voting-age Americans in 1968 did not vote for Nixon. Silent majority, indeed.

Though seeking 100 percent voter turnout is a fool's errand, we cannot be content with missing the bullseye of electoral legitimacy when we have so many arrows left in our quiver. The challenge is obvious: Increase voter turnout.

One underutilized tool is Election Day registration, or EDR. In eight states, including Idaho, Iowa, Maine, and Minnesota, EDR has helped boost voter turnout by about 10 percentage points.

It's no coincidence that the five states with the highest percentage voter turnout in 2008 used EDR. The fact that it benefits underrepresented groups the most, including minorities, lower-income, and young voters, is icing on top.

Yet more than 40 states have declined the opportunity, citing concern about administrative burden or fear of voter-fraud. However, according to numerous studies and interviews with election officials, Election Day registration is manageable and has not led to increased fraud or problems at the polls.

This brings us to a simple question: Is it right (or even necessary) to require citizens to register up to a month before they cast a vote?

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