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Modernize the Vote
Registering to vote should be modern, accurate and automatic. That’s why U.S. PIRG is working to modernize the vote by starting at the point of entry — registration — and passing policies like online, automatic and Election Day registration.
Every American — Democrat, Republican, or independent — has a fundamental right to have their vote counted.
But these days, despite using computers, tablets and smartphones for nearly every aspect of our daily lives, nearly half our country is still using pen and paper to register to vote.
Registering to vote should be modern, accurate and automatic. But our outdated and often inaccurate system works against that idea, and can leave eligible voters to deal with registration problems when they go to cast their vote on Election Day.
In fact, in the 2012 presidential election, it’s estimated that more than a million eligible voters tried to vote but were turned away because of registration problems. And making matters worse, these outdated systems are generally more expensive and less accurate. One in eight voter records on the rolls is either invalid or has serious issues, many due to human errors from processing paper applications.
We can do better. That’s why U.S. PIRG is working to modernize the vote by starting at the point of entry — registration — and passing policies like online, automatic and Election Day registration.
Our ideas are simple. You should be able to register to vote online and check or update it at any time. On Election Day, you should be able to register to vote — or fix any problems with your voting information — at your polling place. Finally, anytime you interact with a government agency, whether that’s getting a license at the DMV or updating your address at the post office, your voter registration info should be updated electronically and automatically.
This fundamental shift could add millions of eligible voters to the rolls, bringing more voices into our elections and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Doing so would also make our elections more secure, and save taxpayers money.
Each state is at a different point on the path to modernizing the vote, and should focus on the set of solutions that will get them there. States should first prioritize online voter registration, before working to implement electronic voter registration at state agencies, streamlining voter databases, and pre-registration. Together, all these steps build toward universal registration through automatic and Election Day registration.
U.S. PIRG has a long history of working on the ground to increase voter participation. Through the New Voters and Community Voters Project, we have accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge about what processes work and what barriers exist to getting citizens to the polls — as well as the local relationships we need to organize key stakeholders to advocate for modernization. Getting more people registered to vote, and getting our country further along the path toward universal registration is a key strategy for increasing voter participation.
Now is the time to act. We need to work for and win commonsense reforms to modernize our elections and strengthen our democracy.
Tools & Resources
Author: Professor John C. Coates IV, Harvard Law School
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