When the new Congress convenes in January, the first piece of legislation the new majority will introduce is a sweeping democracy reform agenda. This critical bill, known currently as HR1, will improve American government by modernizing our elections and curbing the influence of big money in political campaigns.
The legislation includes a variety of improvements and necessary measures to fix problems with our elections: restoring the Voting Rights Act, ensuring fair redistricting processes by ending partisan gerrymandering, expanding Automatic Voter Registration, and much more.
But perhaps the most important part of this bill—the item that will have the most impact—is Same Day Registration.
The League of Women Voters has long advocated for expanding voter registration. After all, our organization was founded nearly 100 years ago to help the millions of newly eligible female voters participate in our democracy. We were a leader in crafting the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and have been at the table working with lawmakers to craft this new bill we will soon see in Congress.
Today we strongly support Automatic Voter Registration, but AVR does not obviate the need for other measures, including Same Day Registration. Even with AVR, hiccups in the system exclude eligible citizens from participating. Voters move, find themselves purged, or thought they updated their registration but turn up on Election Day to find that they are not in the system.
This is where Same Day Registration can make all the difference.
Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia, offered voters the opportunity to register and vote on Election Day in 2018—and if HR1 becomes law, this would apply nationwide. There are a number of ways Same Day Registration dramatically improves our elections.
First, it does away with registration deadlines that disenfranchise potential voters.For most Americans, their attention to elections peak in the fall, right as registration deadlines take effect. These deadlines vary state by state, with most between eight and 30 days before Election Day. If voters are able to register and vote in the same day, this eliminates the arbitrary deadlines that can cause confusion and keep voters from participating.
Same Day Registration also fixes inaccuracies in voter rolls. As election observers and election protection partners, our League volunteers hear hundreds of stories of voters who find themselves unable to cast a ballot because of a name change or change of address—which disproportionally impacts women, young people, people of color, and lower-income Americans. Eligible voters can use Same Day Registration to correct outdated voter registration records at the polling place, saving themselves an extra step and still allowing them to participate. For eligible voters who have been purged from the rolls but want to cast a ballot, SDR provides them the opportunity to reregister and still make sure their voice is heard on Election Day.
With Same Day Registration, there is far less need for provisional ballot.When a voter’s name does not show up on the voter rolls, but that individual believes they are registered, they’re offered a provisional ballot. These votes often require follow-up to confirm the eligibility and registration of the voter and are often not counted until the days after the election. When voters can register and vote on Election Day, it reduces the need for provisional ballots. This in turn speeds the process of recounts and audits, saving taxpayers in the long run, and assuring voters that their votes will be counted.
Lastly—and at the heart of our work for nearly a century—Same Day Registration increases voter participation. This may be the most important impact of SDR. The biggest impediment to voting is not registering to vote. Our democracy is strongest when every eligible voter can participate, and Same Day Registration is proven to boost voter participation. States including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine had the highest voter turnout in the country in 2016 and these three states have had Same Day Registration available since the 1970s. In 2018, the top six states for voter turnout also included New Hampshire, Colorado, and Montana, all of which have SDR on the books.
Same Day Registration is the best stop-gap solution to solve errors in the registration process, fix inaccuracies in voter rolls, reduce provisional ballots, and increase voter participation.
HR1 includes multiple measures that would improve our election system and make our democracy stronger. But it is Same Day Registration is where we stand to truly solve some of our biggest challenges in our election process, by fixing problems with registration and making sure that every eligible voter in America has the opportunity to participate in our elections.
The upcoming 116th Congress could make history with the first comprehensive package of democracy reforms scheduled for 2019, HR1. Since the announcement of HR1, LWVUS has been talking to folks on the Hill and working with partner organizations to help shape the bill’s language and ensure that voting rights are strengthened by this important legislation.