Ending the Cutoff to Register to Vote in all 50 states
While 19 states already have Election Day or same day Registration, where every voter can register or update their registration on Election Day or during early voting, 31 other states still cut off voter registration up to a month before the election.
That could all change if legislation proposed by California Congresswoman Julia Brownley, the Same Day Registration Act of 2019, becomes law. It would make same day registration a national standard for all 50 states. There’s no reason to wait. Same day registration has proven track record of expanding voter participation and helping people vote for more than 40 years.
The policy started in the 1970’s with bipartisan support in Maine, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Minnesota at the time didn’t have statewide voter registration. Their new law made a point to include the back-up option of Election Day Registration from day one. All three states have been top ten in voter turnout ever since.
New Hampshire, Wyoming and Idaho followed in the 1990’s. Seeing the clear benefits and workability of the policy, thirteen more states then adopted the policy. Michigan, Missouri, Utah, and Washington did so most recently in 2018.
The benefits to voter turnout are well researched. Political science estimates states that adopt same day registration can expect turnout of eligible voters to increase from three to seven percentage points. Nonprofit VOTE’s America Goes to the Polls voter turnout report with the U.S. Elections Project show that average turnout in the states with same day registration outpace the others in every national election by a large margin even as more states of different sizes and regions have implemented the policy.
The benefits of same day registration are more than just statistics. It’s the human story of how it impacts fully eligible and interested voters that make the effort to vote and have their voice heard, only to get turned away due to a fixable problem with their registration. In 2016 alone, the Center for American Progress estimates if all states had same day registration more than four million additional voters could have successfully voted.
Does this mean states don’t have deadlines? No. The same day registration states maintain advance deadlines to encourage people to register early and spread out the flow for election officials – but not a final cutoff to vote. States also differ in implementing their same day registration policies. Most have it during early voting and Election Day. Some only on Election Day. While there is an initial cost of implementation, experience has shown it always lower than estimated. States end up saving the money on processing costly provisional ballots. They gain another tool to update and clean their voter rolls.
Newer policies like automatic voter registration at public agencies and online registration make a vital difference in getting more people registered throughout the year. But when it comes to the election itself, in a nation of 235 million eligible voters several million will have a mistake in their registration made inadvertently at election offices, public agencies, third party registration drives, or voters themselves. It’s critical for all states to have a fail-safe policy at the back end when it most counts the most when a voter goes to vote.
As the Wisconsin state legislature said in 1975, voter registration should be a gateway voting, never be a barrier.
On who and how we register to vote, we as a nation should have one united policy, one standard. To be a United States, taking unified steps to allow every eligible American to vote is a great way to start the new year.
Full List of SDR/EDR States, National Conference of State Legislators.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Senior Policy Fellow, Nonprofit VOTE