Voter Registration Is Spiking In the Face of the Reality of Trump
The fallout from the first presidential debate and online efforts by voting rights activists converged this week, prompting notable numbers of people to register to vote.
The trend started on Tuesday, September 27, which was National Voter Registration Day. Whether it was the first presidential debate the night before or being prodded by internet titans like Facebook and Google, registrations seriously spiked on Tuesday and kept up through the week. (In most battleground states, registration closes the second week in October.)
“Almost every state reporting data saw a massive increase in total online voter registration activity on September 23 compared to a week earlier, and in nearly every state, these spikes persisted through the weekend, with thousands in each state registering to vote,” blogged David Becker, co-founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.
Consider these jumps, according to the center’s statistics. On September 22nd, 2,296 people registered to vote online in Colorado; on the 23rd it was 20,172 registrants and on the 24th it was 7,107 new voters. In Pennsylvania, on the 23rd it was 5,432 registrants, but on the 24th it was 21,013 new voters and on the next day 10,559 more voters. In Illinois, it was 2,802 registrants on the 23rd, but 30,2018 new voters on the 24th and 9,089 more the next day.
“Incredibly, the 16 states listed above [AL, CA, CO, CN, DE, DC, IL, IO, LA, MD, MA, MN, OR, PA, UT, WA] alone accounted for 338,507 online registration transactions on one day—September 23rd—after Facebook encouraged their users to register,” Becker said. “On September 26th—the date Google had the voter registration doodle on their home page—several states, including California, Maryland, Minnesota, and Oregon saw another increase in online voter registration activity.”
Other election-centric websites reported similar spikes.
“In Indiana, following the Facebook prompt, 30,000 residents registered to vote between September 23 and September 26,” reported Mindy Moretti at ElectionLine.org. “Since Facebook launched its online campaign to remind Hoosiers to register to vote, we have seen substantially higher than normal online registrations,” Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement. “Friday was the third highest daily total ever for online registrations. I appreciate Facebook’s willingness to use its platform to encourage everyone to vote and hope Hoosiers continue to do so.”
“By [last] Friday evening, Georgia’s Secretary of State revealed that this advocacy prompted a 2,225 percent increase in voter registrations from the same day last year,” wrote Allee Manning for Vocativ.com. “That’s a decent spike. Depending on who you think benefits more from a large turnout (most seem to think it is likely to benefit Clinton) a Facebook assist on this front could, potentially, help move the needle in battleground states.”
Other data points this week also showed registration surges among a key electoral demographic: Latinos. As Nate Cohn wrote at the New York Times, as Donald Trump spent days going after Alicia Machado, an ex-Miss Universe who Hillary Clinton told a national debate audience had been fat-shamed and treated poorly by Trump, Google searches for “register to vote” were surging in Latino epicenters.
“By Wednesday evening, all of the top markets for searches for ‘register to vote’ came in heavily Latino markets in Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. The same pattern held into Thursday,” Cohn said, citing spikes in Miami, Las Vegas, El Paso and Laredo, Texas. “In 2012, the Hispanic share of registered voters increased to 13.9 percent from 13.5 between the August primary and the general election. A similar uptick would be bad news for Republicans; a bigger one would start to make Mr. Trump’s path to victory in Florida look very tenuous.”
Voter registration starts to close in many presidential battleground states a month before Election Day, which falls in the second week in October. With the stakes in the 2016 election becoming ever more stark, these reports suggest there is going to be a last-minute rush to register and high turnout once all the ballots are counted. Early voting starts the week after registration closes in select locations, usually county offices, and by mail-in ballot, depending on state laws.
While it is encouraging to see a smattering of reports of growing voter rolls, people should remember the real reason voter registration exists—to suppress turnout. That point was made in a series of tweets on Tuesday by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in American elections.
“I despise this day [National Voter Registration Day] because voter reg among the most effective vote suppression tools in history,” he tweeted. “Before the 1850s, the government was responsible for maintaining lists of who was eligible to vote… In 1850s northeast states adopted voter reg, but only applied to large cities where political opponents found, rural areas were exempt… Wisconsin still had voter registration only for cities until 2000’s… During the South's Jim Crow voter registration was used to suppress Black votes. Clerks would close doors when a Black person approached… Today state governments still heap additional voter reg requirements: AZ, GA & KS proof-of-citizenship, GA exact match w/ other databases… We don't need voter registration today: North Dakota doesn't have it, id only required to vote… We should do as we did for the first century of our country's existence and have the government responsible for registering everyone… So celebrate #NationalVoterRegistrationDay by registering but know that you have do to the chore because someone doesn't want you to vote.”
Indeed, in many red-majority states across the country, Republicans are still pursuing deliberate policies to prevent otherwise eligible voters from casting ballots this fall. In Wisconsin, the state government led by GOP Gov. Scott Walker is preventing people from obtaining newly required IDs from state motor vehicle agency offices. In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who promised to send an absentee ballot application to every eligible voter in the state, is now saying he won’t send them to 1 million Ohioans—one in seven voters—who didn’t vote in 2012 or 2014, which disadvantages occasional voters.
There also are ongoing lawsuits in many states over the fine print of voting rules that will be decided in coming weeks, possibly removing barriers but also sowing confusion among the public. But with slightly more than five weeks to go before Election Day, the apparent trend that voter registrations are on the rise is something positive for progressives to note. The next step is getting people to the polls with correct IDs to vote with ballots that will be counted.