The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Ellison Introduces National Same-Day Voter Registration Bill

October 29, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The Minnesota Independent reports that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has introduced a bill that would allow Election Day registration for federal elections across the country.

The Same Day Registration Act would let people register at the polling place on Election Day rather than requiring registration weeks or months ahead of time, as most states do.

Same-day registration is already law in seven states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia. Common Cause claims those states see voter-turnout rates as much as 7 percent higher than others. North Dakota is the only state to do without voter registration altogether.

In a statement, Ellison outlined the advantage of such a system:

Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter turnout – usually over 70 percent. … Enacting a National Election Day Registration law would do for the nation what same day registration has done for our State – give a voice to all who want to vote.

A Caltech/MIT study (pdf) published earlier this year shot down the two biggest criticisms of same-day voter registration — the potential for fraud and additional costs imposed on local election administrators.

[I]n the six states that currently use election day registration, there is not an unusually high number of cases of voting fraud.  In particular, we have interviewed local election officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin, especially in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Milwaukee areas, and have found only a handful of cases of fraud involving a very small number of votes over the last decade. This in our opinion is due not to the unique political cultures of these six states, but instead to the fact that these states have made substantial investments in minimizing the risks  associated with election day registration. [...]

We have been able to find no evidence that election jurisdictions that have election day registration have significantly higher costs per vote, so it is not clear that election day registration is necessarily more costly.  Rather, election day registration simply moves much of the pre-election burden of registration tasks to the post-election period; that is, rather than having to expend resources in the registration period before the election to update databases, most of this work can occur after the election.

Of course, the study also found that same-day registration could increase turnout among certain demographics, especially the young and minorities — which tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Smart money says Republicans will find some reason to oppose it.

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