Election Reform Partisans Can Support

Voter fraud or voter suppression? Republicans and Democrats have different priorities but agree reform is needed. Automatic Voter Registration is an idea both parties should get behind.

Five Figures to Consider

0.0025% occurrence of individual election fraud in the U.S.
1 in 8 voter registrations are estimated to contain significant errors
9 states and the District of Columbia offer Automatic Voter Registration
29% of eligible U.S. citizens are not registered to vote
3¢ is the cost of processing an electronic registration versus 83¢ for a paper one

When it comes to elections, Republicans and Democrats can agree on at least two things. Free and trustworthy elections are the foundation of democracy, and automatic voter registration could make elections more free and more trustworthy. Those two beliefs have led legislators in both red and blue states across the country to institute automatic voter registration, which will likely do more to improve the voting process in America than the new Commission on Election Integrity will. That controversial Commission, which has been sued by the ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is on the hunt for election fraud, an occurrence researchers have identified in at most .0025% of ballots.  A voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to purposefully engage in voter fraud.

On the other hand, errors in voter rolls are a real vulnerability of the election system. In fact 1 in 8 voter registrations has been found to contain errors, most of which can be traced to changes of address, changes of name, deaths or errors in data entry.

Imagine a system of automatic voter registration that was linked to government databases and provided voters secure online access. Voters could be automatically registered when they are born, which happens in some European countries, or when they turn 18. Addresses and name changes could be updated whenever a person interacted with the government through, say, a federal tax return, a driver license transaction, a Social Security check or local property tax payment. Just like that pair of platform shoes you eyed that follows you around the internet, your voter registration would follow you from address to address, name change to name change, from public university enrollment to passport renewal and from your first contact with the government until death.  You could also securely login to check and correct your registration information such as address or party affiliation.

Since 2015, nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted automatic voter registration, and many more states have adopted modernizations that move toward automatic registration. A bill was recently introduced in Congress that would make automatic voter registration a nationwide requirement. In addition to improving the accuracy of voter rolls, automatic voter registration is likely to increase voter enrollment and turnout as well. Currently 29% of eligible Americans are not registered to vote, and 60% of Americans say no one has ever asked them to register to vote. While states have improved registration access by linking voter registration to their motor vehicle departments, there are still millions of Americans who are not registered to participate in one of the most important opportunities and civic duties democracy offers.

Automatic voter registration is also cheaper than paper registration, and, as a result, it lowers costs for local governments. In Maricopa County, Arizona, for example, it costs just to process an electronic voter registration versus 83¢ for a paper registration form. Local governments could spend the savings on actions that increase voter participation such as extending voting through absentee ballots, making election day a holiday and outreach including educating voters with non-partisan candidate information.

Rather than spending time and taxpayer money searching for voter fraud, the federal government should support state efforts to improve the accuracy of voter rolls, increase voter registration and make voting more accessible through automatic voter registration.