It’s not just a fad. As winter comes to a close, states across the country are making waves with the biggest new idea in election reform: using computers. You might think that’s commonsense, but right now, many states use a voter registration system that depends on paper filings, one which often falls out-of-date every time a voter changes their address. It’s inefficient, it’s costly, and if 2016 has anything to say about it, those old filing systems could soon be replaced by automatic voter registration.
This morning, Senator Dick Durbin endorsed an Illinois election reform bill that would do just that. Speaking from the Cook County Clerk’s Office, Senator Durbin put his stamp on an automatic voter registration bill that would streamline the process for more than 2 million unregistered yet eligible Illinois voters and fix registration errors that could create problems or even prevent voting on Election Day.
It’s not every day that a federal lawmaker puts their weight behind state legislation, but Senator Durbin’s endorsement wasn’t the first. Illinois’s idea for voter registration reform took the national spotlight earlier this month, when President Barack Obama came to the Illinois General Assembly and endorsed the same bill in a speech that urged lawmakers to help build a better politics.
Today’s voter registration system is inefficient, costing taxpayers more than it should, and inaccurate, causing responsible voters to be turned away when they show up on Election Day. In the last presidential race, it’s estimated that over a million eligible voters nationwide tried to vote but were turned away because of registration problems.
The solution is simple. When any eligible voter interacts with the DMV or potentially another state agency, automatic voter registration uses modern-day electronics to send the necessary information to that voter’s local elections official, who reviews the electronic application and, if everything is in order, registers the individual to vote or updates their voter registration. The elections official then sends the voter a notification, giving them the opportunity to opt out if they wish to.
Automatic voter registration doesn’t just add millions of people to the voter rolls, it also updates voter information for many people who’ve since moved or had another change in their voter information. Under today’s systems, an estimated one out of every eight voter registrations in the United States is either invalid or contains significant errors.
Illinois' recently endorsed bill is a strong proposal for bringing voter registration process into the 21st century, but it’s neither the first nor last we’ll see this year. States like California and Oregon have already passed legislation to modernize their voter registration systems. In Oregon, eligible citizens are now automatically added to the voter rolls when they interact with the DMV, unless they decide to opt out.
Automatic voter registration isn’t just a feature of this year’s election reform collection, it’s the hottest item in states across the country. This spring, automatic voter registration bills are under consideration in at least 16 states, from West Virginia to Washington. With easier and more efficient ways to keep our voter rolls up to date, states are taking the initiative at modernizing their registration process.
As you consider casting your ballot in the 2016 elections, make sure your state is taking action to modernize their registration system by contacting your local representatives. This is a trend you can’t miss.