Another Election Day has come and gone, giving us a chance to consider an unresolved issue. That is, how to improve the American voting system. We are still operating under some obsolete rules and procedures.
Those need to change if we ever hope to reverse the woeful turnouts of recent elections and ensure that all eligible citizens are able to register and vote without undue barriers.
The proposed Voter Empowerment Act of 2013 has a component called Voter Registration Modernization that is intended to bring the American voting system into the 21st century. It is based on proposals from the Brennan Center for Justice, a legal advocacy group in New York. It requires the government to take responsibility for making sure that every eligible voter can become registered and remain that way.
Modernizing voter registration, securely, might involve electronic, online and same-day registration. The bill has other aspects that would need more discussion, but the part dealing with technology seems clear-cut.
These days, a library book can be renewed online with the click of a mouse. Smartphones can be used to make bank deposits. Yet, in many cases, voter registrations are still handled using paper and pen.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party, stung by the nation’s changing demographics, has been working hard to depress registration and voter turnout. Restrictive voter ID laws and limits on voting hours are presented as ways to reduce voter fraud, but such fraud is virtually nonexistent thanks to existing laws against it.
The center makes a strong argument that updating registration procedures would save money, as computerized records are easier to maintain than piles of paper. And the increased accuracy of the country’s voter rolls would curb any potential for fraud.
Digital registration would help attract the younger voters who generally turn out in the lowest numbers and who are accustomed to digital convenience. The Brennan Center estimates that up to 50 million eligible American citizens would be added to the rolls permanently under Voter Modernization, states would save money on election administration and the accuracy of voter rolls would be increased.
New York State has online and electronic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles, but it does not apply to everyone. That’s a big accomplishment, but there is more that can be done. There is no same-day or online voter registration, or portability so that when someone moves in-state, the registration moves with the person.
New York legislation, the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, introduced last year by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, would remedy some of those problems. It should be reintroduced.
This high-tech approach to voting would allow Americans the kind of ease, flexibility and security that they have become accustomed to in this digital age.