During social distancing, it is vital that we work together to provide and expand alternatives to traditional voter registration methods — including online and same-day voter registration.
Social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic means that Americans are hosting and encountering fewer public voter registration opportunities, like those often hosted by schools, campuses, festivals, churches, and more. Voter registration also typically takes place at government agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV); at targeted voter registration events; through “Get Out the Vote” efforts in neighborhoods; or via door-knocking. But most, if not all, of these services are being curtailed or completely eliminated in the run-up to the November election due to the risks of transmitting the coronavirus through human contact.
Online voter registration is a vital tool to ensure Americans can register safely and efficiently during a public health crisis. Yet in 12 states, however, individuals still cannot register to vote online.
In a nation where upwards of a million people are prevented from engaging in their civic responsibility because of outdated and archaic voter registration systems, we must ensure that the process of registering is clear, easy to follow, and accessible for all. Although all Americans will agree that voting is one of the most fundamental rights of U.S. citizens, the United States is the only major global democracy that “requires individual citizens to shoulder the onus of registering to vote (and re-registering when they move).” The requirement to update your voter registration when you change your address prevents tens of millions of eligible voters from being able to exercise their right to vote.
It's imperative that states evaluate and update their voter registration systems to include a more online-focused registration process.
Online voter registration is an effective option for ensuring Americans can register safely and efficiently during a public health crisis. In 2016, online registration accounted for 17% of all voter registrations, proving not only that citizens will use the process when available, but also that it can be implemented in a secure way that protects sensitive information. In 12 states, however, individuals still cannot register to vote online. In a nation where upwards of a million people are prevented from engaging in their civic responsibility because of outdated and archaic voter registration systems, we must ensure that the process of registering is clear, easy to follow, and accessible for all. By updating voting systems to include a more online-focused registration process, states have the simultaneous opportunity to ensure that more voters are included in the democratic process while also substantially decreasing the costs of labor, printing, processing of forms, and postage.
We must avoid and protect against voter "purges."
Of course, there are some technological setbacks that we must actively monitor. Sometimes, even when a citizen has registered, their registration can be invalidated, or even purged. “Purging” occurs when a state “cleans up” its list of registered voters to ensure that individuals who have died or are no longer eligible cease to be listed on the voter rolls. This process has been misused as a voter suppression tactic, and it frequently results in eligible voters — especially those from communities of color — becoming wrongfully disenfranchised.
Same-day registration is essential to ensure that every American who wishes to cast a ballot on Election Day can do so.
In some states, deadlines for voter registration can be as far as 30 days from Election Day itself, meaning that many citizens who intended to register in a new state or at a new address simply miss the deadline through no fault of their own. Same-day registration is a simple policy with myriad benefits beyond assisting those who have been targeted by voter purges. For young voters, those who just turn 18 and become eligible, newly-minted citizens, those who have recently changed addresses, or simply those with busy lives, same-day registration offers a critical backstop that enables any eligible voter to cast a ballot on Election Day.
Notably, same-day registration does not unfairly favor voters on one side of the political aisle over the other; it is a non-partisan attempt to ensure that all enthusiastic voters are able to cast a ballot when they arrive at their polling place, whether they forgot the deadline, moved to town three days ago, or were unfairly targeted by a voter purge.
Research shows same-day voter registration can boost turnout by 5% — and that's something that Americans of all political parties should support.
The strength of our democracy relies on voter turnout, voter engagement, and participation in political systems from the local through federal level. By ensuring that voter registration moves fully into the 21st century and that voters have the opportunity to register at new polling locations up until — and on — Election Day, we take a step toward protecting democracy for all.
HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION NOW
We need you to become a frontline advocate with us. Here's what you can ask of your local officials based on our recommendations above.
1. Adopt same-day voter registration during early voting and on Election Day
Call on your state and local elected leaders to adopt same-day voter registration during early voting and on Election Day. In doing so, they must also establish procedures for processing same-day voter registration. At a minimum, you can advocate for election officials to extend voter registration deadlines to account for potential difficulties that may arise due to the coronavirus crisis overloading the system.
2. Establish a system for voters to complete their voter registration application online
Urge your state election officials to develop, fund, and launch a system for voters to complete their voter registration application online.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICYMAKERS AND ELECTION OFFICIALS
How state officials can make infrastructure improvements to expand online and same-day voter registration:
- Ensure that websites and any corresponding applications involved in online voter registration are properly secure and free from vulnerabilities that could result in the theft of sensitive user data.
How state officials can support policy implementation to expand online and same-day voter registration:
- Support and launch voter education campaigns that publicly announce voter registration deadlines and share the ways in which voters can register or check their registration in a safe and accessible manner.