Consensus Builds for Universal Voter Registration

America's system of voter registration, in which the responsibility is placed almost solely on individuals, took center stage in this election cycle.

In the wake of historic interest in voting, and after months of controversy surrounding nonprofit registration drives, America's leaders, journalists, and voting rights experts are calling for a new registration system that reduces the need for third-party registration drives and shifts responsibility from the individual to government:

The Washington Post editorializes: "It's time to rethink another vestige of an earlier era -- a voter registration system that not only prevents people from voting but causes myriad troubles for election officials. There's a growing clamor by voting rights advocates to shift the onus on registering from the individual to government. Not only would this remove the single biggest obstacle to voting (consider that in 2004, 28 percent of eligible Americans were not registered to vote), but it would make manipulation of the system harder." A Better Vote, November 9, 2008).

The Los Angeles Times reports: "The nation's much-maligned election system passed a major test last week when more than 132 million Americans -- a record -- cast ballots with few reports of problems. But now, election reformers are calling for a move toward a universal voter registration system, in which the government takes the lead in ensuring that all eligible citizens are registered to vote." (Voter Registration Process is Under Scrutiny; David G. Savage, November 10, 2008).

Rosemary E. Rodriguez, chair of the federal Election Assistance Commission, told the New York Times: "The single most important thing that Congress can do right now is create universal voter registration, which would mean that all eligible voters are automatically registered..." (Push to Expand Voter Rolls and Early Balloting in U.S., Ian Urbina, November 6, 2008).

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton agrees: "A system of automatic registration, in which the government bears more of the responsibility for assembling accurate and secure lists of eligible voters, is a necessary reform," Clinton told the Times. "All eligible Americans should be able to cast their ballot without barriers, and the registration problems we saw on Tuesday and during the weeks that preceded Election Day make clear that the system needs improvement." (Push to Expand Voter Rolls and Early Balloting in U.S, Ian Urbina, November 6, 2008).

USA Today explains: "Besides lines, the biggest problems Tuesday had to do with voter-registration systems. Even with new electronic databases, states often dropped would-be voters from their rolls if their names or data didn't match driver's or Social Security records. That has led advocacy groups to push for universal registration, a system used by at least 24 other countries in which all eligible citizens are automatically able to vote and permanently kept on the rolls."( Election gives early-balloting initiatives a boost, Richard Wolf, November 7, 2008).

The Brennan Center for Justice says: "Today we have the opportunity for a major breakthrough for effective democracy. New technology and the implementation of new federal laws make it possible to vault over existing voter registration problems. The United States can move to a system of universal voter registration; a system where every eligible citizen is able to vote because the government has taken the steps to make it possible for them to be on the voter rolls, permanently." (Universal Voter Registration, Wendy R. Weiser, Michael Waldman, and Renee Paradis, October 31, 2008).

Rick Hasen, election law expert, writes at Slate: "The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. Finally, universal voter registration is good for the country, not only because it will make it easier for those who wish to vote to do so, but because it should end controversy over ballot integrity that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of our election process." (Registering Doubt: If we can nationalize banks, why not our election process, October 27, 2008).

Common Cause finds: "Across the country, there were overblown charges against ACORN and other voter registration organizations regarding voter registration fraud. All of these incidents underscore the need to completely rethink how we do voter registration in this country, unique in that it places almost the entire burden on citizens to register to vote and make sure they stay registered throughout their lives." Voting in 2008: Lessons Learned, Tova Wang, November 10, 2008).

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