During the last legislative session, I worked very hard on an election day voter registration bill. It passed the House easily, but after the county clerks got involved, it ended up failing in the Senate on the last night of the session.
There were several elements to the clerks’ arguments–unknown expectation of additional work, additional training required for poll workers, etc. but after all those reasons were debunked and fears assuaged, the reason they refused to let go of was voter responsibility. It is their contention that, if someone wants to vote, they should be required to follow the rules, no matter how arbitrary they may be. They believe that voting is a responsibility and as such, you should be required to register well in advance of casting your vote.
Currently, you can register up to 2 weeks prior to an election (earlier if you want to vote by mail). But it is important to note that a two week deadline is completely arbitrary–it is a date randomly selected by the legislature. Some states have Election Day Registration, while others have one, two, even four week deadlines, there is no consistency.
And it isn’t as though there isn’t precedence for doing something on the same day.
If you want to purchase a gun, plop down your money, wait a few minutes for your background check, walk out with a gun and ammunition.
Want to get married? No worries, the clerk’s office opens at 8am, hand over your $40 and you could be married by 8:30, by a friend who got their “ministerial” credentials online (on the same day, as well).
I have a suspicion that the whole argument for responsibility really has less to do with any sort of need for a waiting period and far more to do with fear.
As humans, we fear change. For most voters over the age of 40, we never imagined a time when you’d vote without leaving your home. If you’re like my parents, you got dressed up, you drove to the polling location, likely the same one where you’d voted for decades. The poll workers all knew you and you made your way into a booth, closed the curtain, and did your civic duty.
Now, not only do you have the option of voting by mail, if you do vote in person you can go to any polling location, you use a keycard and select your choices on an electronic voting machine. No more curtain, no more neighbor asking about your kids. Its one more in a long list of things that is no longer like it was in the “good old days.”
Change is hard. But change is good. We can register people online that may not have transportation. People can vote when they travel, are homebound, or working two jobs and juggling kids. Change accommodates everyone, except those unwilling, or afraid to learn and adapt.
So kids don’t want to have to register two weeks early. Who cares?
So they want to just mail in their ballot, or even stop at some random polling location, show their ID, and register and vote all on the same day. Who cares?
As we stare at our abysmal voter turnout numbers, shouldn’t we be far more concerned about why people are not voting than thinking of ways to make it harder?
If election day registration gets even a few more people out and engaged, then frankly, I don’t think we should care about when they registered, what they’re wearing, or where or how they choose to vote.
Voting is a right. The only responsibility should be for us to make that right readily and easily exercised.