TOO OFTEN, attention to problems with the nation’s electoral process rises and falls with the coming and going of election seasons.
Occasionally it happens that events force the issue back onto the agenda, such as the upheaval in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.
A new discussion began this week when the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act; Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion ensures that the constitutional question will continue to be raised.
But there is a persistent threat to ballot access from election to election, and it is implicated in all reform debates: the voter registration system.
Unlike on many issues in election law and administration, there is a surprising amount of agreement on both sides of the aisle about how to modernize the registration system, for example, by eliminating arcane inefficiencies that waste resources, disenfranchise voters, frustrate election officials and complicate campaigns.
For two years, we were on opposite sides of a historic election, serving as general counsels to the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns. As adversaries, we disagreed passionately about many issues.
Our roles in the campaign, however, were often similar; each of us was responsible for guiding our candidates and campaigns through the overly complex gantlet of election administration. Those experiences led us to an inescapable conclusion: Bringing our voter registration system into the 21st century must be the priority for improving the election process.
It is fortunate that many now recognize this pressing need. Election officials, voting experts, candidates, campaign operatives, policy-makers from both parties and —- most important —- voters are frustrated by the current registration system and the resources it wastes, the fact that millions of eligible Americans are prevented from casting ballots and the insufficiency of the current protections against registration fraud.
These problems are rooted in the system’s near-exclusive reliance on paper voter registration forms.
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