Friday, July 24, 2009

Schumer: Taking on the System

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 68 percent of Americans are registered to vote. Compare this to a rate of 100 percent in Argentina, or 97 percent in Belize, and it becomes apparent that the United States’ might have dropped the ball. Nations with higher voter turnout than America’s average of 54 percent (though to be fair, the estimated turnout in the 2008 presidential election was as high as 63 percent) include Malta, New Zealand, Iceland, Germany, Venezuela, Norway, Brazil, Israel and Estonia.

Fortunately, policymakers are gearing up to introduce legislation that will simplify and expand the voter registration process, hopefully in turn increasing civic engagement and enthusiasm about voting. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, has begun to draft a National voter registration modernization bill. Chances are the legislation will follow the recommendations of the commissioned report “Helping Voters Today, Modernizing the System for Tomorrow,” compiled by the nonpartisan coalition Election Protection.
Some of the key policy recommendations include:

*Automatic registration: instead of leaving voter registration to individuals or third-party organizations, the government should actively and automatically register citizens to vote based on state databases that individuals may opt out of.

*Permanent registration: changes like new addresses should not require complicated new registration that many citizens are not aware of. Instead, the choice to update voter information should be given in situations such as registration of new address at the post office.

*Election day correction: voters who are not automatically added to the rolls, or those who have minor inconsistencies in their information should be able to update their registration on election day if they have official proof. No eligible citizen should be turned away at the polls because their name was not added or was taken off of the list.

*Decrease voter disinformation: provide adequate education about voting and prohibit voting practices intended to misinform, intimidate, or disenfranchise citizens.

*Provide adequate resources and incentives to election officials to ensure efficient and well-performed election management.

*Implement "no excuse" early voting: expanding the dates for voting and making poll time flexible will encourage a greater proportion of the population to vote.

What do you think of these ideas? What other reform could the United States voting system use?