Before the next election, all states need same-day registration

Before the next election, all states need same-day registration
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With an estimated $5 billion spent in Tuesday’s midterm elections, there’s no question this was a high-interest election. The results undoubtedly will affect President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s agenda over the next two years and shape the contours of the 2020 presidential election. But was every voter who wanted to cast a ballot able to do so?

In many states, early voter turnout outpaced the entirety of early turnout in 2014. For example, more people voted in advance of election day in Texas than voted in the entire 2014 midterm election. The frenzy associated with the midterms had some questioning whether it would be the largest show of voters in a midterm in a century — leading some to say that the election was not on Nov. 6, but concluded Nov. 6.


To be eligible to vote, citizens in most states had to register weeks in advance. Yet, just as many of us work to a deadline, Americans do not tune into politics until elections are eminent. Recognizing this fact, a number of states have adopted election day registration (EDR), allowing people to register to vote the day they cast their ballots.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have some form of EDR. The practice is especially helpful to those who recently have moved, as well as those who are the least likely to vote in the first place. This is because it largely removes the “cost” associated with advance registration, thereby increasing their likelihood of voting. It also recognizes that some voters may be motivated to vote after voter registration deadlines in many states have passed.    

Consider the news cycle over the past month: the migrant caravan, the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, pipe bombs aimed at prominent Democrats, the pending abolition of birthright citizenship, talk of a 10 percent tax cut by Trump, and the strained relations between the Saudi government and the United States resulting from the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. All of these events occurred after registration deadlines in many states.    

It is reasonable to believe that any of those issues might have affected marginal voters’ intentions and mobilized them to go to the polls. Given the number of “October surprises” that accompany many elections, EDR makes good sense. While early voting has been criticized because citizens potentially could change their minds if new information were disclosed after they have voted and prior to election day, EDR allows citizens to have all information at their disposal prior to committing to their vote.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans support EDR. Nearly two-thirds support allowing people to register on election day. Young Americans (those who are the most mobile and most likely to benefit from EDR) are the most supportive of EDR. More than eight in 10 of those ages 18-34 favor EDR. Seventy-four percent of those in that age group also favor making election day a national holiday (65 percent of all Americans favor such a move).

Some have even made the case that EDR could be an effective deterrent against foreign election interference. This is particularly the case if registration databases were compromised just before or on election day. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security indicated that Russian hackers sought access to voter registration lists in over 20 states — and actually gained access to millions of records in Illinois. EDR circumvents attempts to alter registrations.   

Even with high-profile elections, hyped by celebrities, rallies and a heap of money spent, turnout typically is less than 50 percent of eligible voters. To be sure, efforts to increase voter registration have been pretty successful; this year, over 800,000 people were registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day. But widespread adoption of EDR would further increase voter turnout and citizen engagement.

Representative democracy requires citizen participation. Abraham Lincoln stated: “Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” EDR provides a final opportunity for citizens to participate and avoid such a fate. Americans widely support it, it helps promote democracy, and it could provide an additional means of protection against those who are waging war with our sacred duty to vote.  

Robert M. Alexander is a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University and author of “Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors, and Campaigns for Faithless Votes.”