How to Make it Easier for 50 Million Americans to Vote

How to Make it Easier for 50 Million Americans to Vote

How to Make it Easier for 50 Million Americans to Vote

A quarter of Americans aren’t registered to vote. Automatic registration can fix that.


More than 1 million people voted in Oregon’s presidential primary yesterday for just the second time in the state’s history.

It was the first primary with Oregon’s new automatic voter registration law in effect, which is off to a great start. More than 100,000 voters were added to the rolls in 4 months, over half through automatic registration. Though Oregon had a closed primary and three-fourths of automatic registrants declined to choose a political party, early data of returned ballots showed that young voters who registered automatically were more likely to vote in the presidential primary or other races.

Reports The Bus Project:

Republican automatic voter registration (AVR) registrants aged 18­-29 have turned out to vote at 20.3%, while individuals not registered though AVR are voting at just 12.7%. Non­affiliated voters aged 18-­29 show a similar trend with AVR voters turning out at 10% in comparison to 3.3% of traditionally registered voters. Independent Party members of the same age range registered though AVR are turning out at 10% while traditionally registered Independent Party members are turning in ballots at the rate of 7.2% Democrats aged 18­-29 have AVR voters turning out at 22.3% which is close behind traditionally registered voters at 25.3% turnout. As of March 31, just over 50% of automatically registered Oregonians were aged 18­-35.

On the same day as Oregon’s primary, voter registration became much easier in two other states as well.

Connecticut became the fifth state to adopt automatic registration at the DMV, joining Oregon, California, West Virginia and Vermont, which could add 400,000 new voters to the rolls.

A federal court also struck down a key part of Kansas’s extremely burdensome proof of citizenship law for voter registration, allowing 18,000 voters to register beginning June 1 who had previously been blocked from registering at the DMV. More than 30,000 voters have had their voter registration status “suspended” by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for failing to bring a passport or birth certificate when registering, including a thirteen-year Air Force vet.

The difficulties of registering to vote in states like Kansas underscores the importance of reforms like automatic registration. The Brennan Center for Justice convened the first national conference on automatic registration in New York today, with 400 activists from 23 states.

Automatic registration on a national level could go a long way toward registering the 50 million Americans—a quarter of the electorate—who are not registered to vote. States like Oregon are moving from an “opt-in” registration system, where voters affirmatively must seek to register, to an “opt-out” system where eligible citizens are automatically signed up after obtaining or renewing their driver’s license at the DMV and can decline to register afterward.

This shift of responsibility has worked powerfully in other facets of life. In European countries where organ donors opt-in, only 14 percent choose to donate versus 94 percent in opt-out countries, noted Sam Wang of Princeton University. If US voter registration increased from the current rate of 76 percent to 94 percent, 40 million Americans would be added to the voting rolls.

Wang also described how the 11 states with Election Day registration have an average voter turnout of 66 percent versus 58 percent nationally. If every state had Election Day registration, 15 million more Americans would vote.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who delivered the keynote address, noted that of the 75 million Americans who didn’t vote in 2008, 60 million weren’t registered. At a time when “too many in this country are trying too hard to make it too difficult for the people to express their views,” Holder endorsed automatic registration nationwide.

“The ability to vote is a right — it is not a privilege,” Holder said. “The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government — it is the lifeblood of our democracy.” Our nation’s voting laws should reflect that.

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed the article you just read. It’s just one of the many deeply reported and boundary-pushing stories we publish every day at The Nation. In a time of continued erosion of our fundamental rights and urgent global struggles for peace, independent journalism is now more vital than ever.

As a Nation reader, you are likely an engaged progressive who is passionate about bold ideas. I know I can count on you to help sustain our mission-driven journalism.

This month, we’re kicking off an ambitious Summer Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. With your support, we can continue to produce the hard-hitting journalism you rely on to cut through the noise of conservative, corporate media. Please, donate today.

A better world is out there—and we need your support to reach it.


Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Ad Policy