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Voter Registration
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The Help America Vote Act’s January 1, 2006 deadline for requiring states to adopt computerized statewide voter registration databases has now passed. Where do the states stand? The Brennan Center at NYU School of Law has produced a comprehensive status report. Compare their findings to voter registration data for the 2004 election, provided by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
As federal courts in Florida and Ohio have grappled with state laws on voter registration procedures, researchers have explored questions on the same topic. One report reveals that registration systems have not kept pace with technology, while another study explores public perceptions of the registration process.
While the Senate passed on an opportunity to examine election reform issues by confirming two new EAC commissioners without a hearing, researchers continue to explore a variety of topics. On voter registration, for example, has examined the concept of Election Day Registration, while the Brennan Center has looked at new restrictions on voter registration drives.
Though it was passed nearly fifteen years ago, the National Voter Registration Act, or "Motor Voter," still receives significant attention, particularly as the EAC is required to submit biennial reports to Congress on the law’s progress and impact. also continues to summarize key state legislative developments on voter registration issues.
Spurred by high interest in the 2008 election, officials in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Oregon are reporting record or near-record numbers of voters on the rolls. Recently, the integrity and operability of these lists has been the focus of both a task force of the National Academies of Sciences and a hearing by the Senate Rules Committee.
States across the country reported record numbers of new registrants during this year’s presidential primaries, and high levels of voter interest suggest this trend may continue to November’s general election. A new analysis from Election Law @ Moritz examines the challenges this may cause, while a new report from the EAC looks at the HAVA-mandated ID requirements for these first-time voters when they go to the polls.
Record numbers of new voters registered before this year’s elections, and the issue of fraudulent registrations appeared frequently in the media and even made it into one of the presidential debates. An analysis from the Election Reform Project examines the unique issues confronting the homeless and ex-felons, while a report from Dēmos looks at successful efforts to register low-income voters at public assistance agencies.
An estimated ten million new voters may have been added to the rolls between 2004 and 2008, but significant problems with the nation’s registration system remain. The Senate Rules Committee recently held a hearing to examine new data that describes the magnitude of the problem, while a new report from the Brennan Center includes an assessment of the particular issues faced by Ohio with its statewide registration database.
As many as 11 million people may have failed to register to vote before the 2008 election because of registration deadlines and changes in residency shortly before Election Day. Two new studies explore strategies for addressing this problem, with one focusing on the unique challenges of the college population and another examining the concept of permanent registration.
Almost half of eligible voters in the United States move every five years, making it increasingly difficult for states to maintain accurate voter registration lists. Studying other countries may provide guidance on how the United States can manage its own registration rolls. One report this week examines the state-level policies concerning voters who move, while the second report provides an overview of voter registration processes in sixteen other democracies around the world.
Two reports review the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 and state-level election reform across the United States. The first report, released by Project Vote, examines the implementation of the NVRA, focusing on registration methods and the progress that has yet to be made. In the second report, from the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University, researchers review the election process across the United States.
The movement to reform voter registration increased its profile last week when the bipartisan Committee to Modernize Voter Registration publicly announced its formation, and The Pew Center on the States released an issue brief recommending ways to update the current system of voter registration.
Making sense of the debate over voter registration reform requires comparisons of state-level policies on maintaining updated voter lists and an increased understanding of the current research on this topic. The first report, published by Project Vote, surveys the academic literature on implementation of the National Voter Registration Act and the second, compiled by the National Association of Secretaries of State, summarizes each state’s procedures for voter registration list maintenance.
The problems with the current system of voter registration in most parts of the country affect both the accuracy of voter registration rolls and the size of the voting population. A Utah Commission has unanimously recommended adopting an automatic voter registration process, and the results of a pilot study of interstate voter registration file matching are presented.
Modernizing the process of voter registration requires coordination between election officials, motor vehicle offices, and public assistance agencies. Three states have already begun implementing their own modernization process, as highlighted by a Project Vote memo. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by Dēmoswith public assistance agencies in 40 states plus the District of Columbia probed the feasibility of using these agencies’ databases as the source for low-income citizens’ voter registration information.
We launched the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project in June 2005 with the encouragement and financial support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Five years later we bring the project to a close. We take this opportunity to reflect on the state of election administration in the United States almost a decade after the extended and controversial Florida vote count in the 2000 presidential election and suggest how additional changes in technology, election law and administrative practices might further strengthen American elections in the years ahead.
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