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National Issues

Fixing the Vote: How to Keep New Voters from Falling Off the Rolls PDF  | Print |  Email
By Michael Walden, Brennan Center for Justice   
June 08, 2008
The primaries have been thrilling, marked by surging voter participation. States without Electoral College clout that have traditionally been ignored by candidates—from Indiana and Texas to North Carolina and even South Dakota—have hosted vibrant campaigns. But as the excitement and suspense of the primary season fades and the reality of a general election sets in, how can we make sure this moment of rare public engagement is not just an aberration?

Major change comes when a widely felt public need collides with dysfunctional public institutions. Today, government is broken. The answer must be more than a simple changing of the guard; we know there will be a new president, after all. But there must also be changes in the way our democracy functions. If we want to end the special-interest stasis that paralyzes Congress, for example, we should move to public financing of congressional campaigns. If we worry that Congress is endlessly partisan, we should reform redistricting rules so that lawmakers can't simply carve themselves one-party districts. If we liked the 50-state frenzy that made every vote matter, we should end the Electoral College (which, intriguingly, could be bypassed by states even without a constitutional amendment).

But no improvement would have a more hopeful impact than to craft a modern and inclusive voting system. Turnout in the Democratic primary, at least, has been double that of the last election cycle, and it will likely rise higher in November. But this rising tide may swamp the ramshackle system by which we cast and count votes. With luck, this year won't be a mess. But we can tap this energy to fix voting, for good. Starting next year, the country should move to a system of universal voter registration, in which every eligible citizen can vote. We should end voter registration as we know it.

The United States is one of the few industrialized democracies that erects barriers to registration, making individuals sign themselves up and bear the burden of keeping their registration up to date. The system leaves gaps and inaccuracies in voter rolls, causes voters to fall through the cracks when they move, and creates opportunities for partisan mischief. Former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter chaired a commission that concluded, "The registration laws in force throughout the United States are among the world's most demanding … [and are] one reason why voter turnout in the United States is near the bottom of the developed world." Today, some 50 million eligible American citizens are not on the rolls.

Read the Entire Article at Newsweek
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