Published on Open Voting Consortium (http://openvotingconsortium.org)

Universal Voter Registration

By Alan
Created 2011 Apr 15 - 11:06am
I received a letter (dated APR 7) via US mail the other day from a radio station in Michigan on WPRR, Inc. letterhead, WPRR 1680, from Bob Goodrich. I responded with a letter via mail -- three pages. I was tempted to respond with a simple, "no," but I thought it was interesting. I had a couple of other thoughts after I sent the letter. I should have said "eliminate it or privatize it at the end of this sentence.
Once we identify a function for government to handle (and pay for) on an on-going basis, the impulse from the Left tends to be "federalize it." The impulse from the Right tends to be "eliminate it."
Also, the basic difference between "universal voter registration" and the idea of eliminating voter registration is the difference between centralization and decentralization of the databases.

Here is the text from the letter:

Mr. Dechert,

Is Open Voting Consortium currently working on the legislative steps required to enable "universal voter registration" for federal elections? I suggest by the federal government assigning each of us a specific federal voter identification number, the Republican fantasized voter fraud allegations would be appropriately dealt with.

Each state could duplicate federal voter registration by continuing to have local registration. Considering how Republicans have politicized the mechanics of both voter registration and voting, I'd expect most (particularly southern) states would continue local registration.

It would be a challenge for the Republican/Tea Party US Senators and Representatives to oppose our democratic ideal of: one citizen, one vote. With tens of millions (felons, college students) of federal voters who could not be state/local voters, hopefully the contrived disenfranchisement will trigger both an outcry and a change.

Kindest Regards, Robert (Bob) Goodrich

*************************** my response, sent via US Mail today
Dear Mr. Goodrich,

Thank you for your April 7th letter regarding universal voter registration. Regarding your question about Open Voting Consortium (OVC) working on this issue, the short answer is “no.” Generally, it is beyond the scope of what we've tried to tackle.

We haven't said much about this issue, although I have given it some thought. In October of 2003, I gave a talk at UC Santa Cruz in which I suggested that perhaps we should eliminate voter registration (this was no where near the main topics of discussion that day – just mentioned in passing). I noted then, as many others have said – and as I'm sure you'd agree – voter registration serves to reduce the pool of eligible voters (aka disenfranchising potential voters), not increase it. The original intent of maintaining the voter file may have been to reduce vote fraud, but there are other ways to ensure only an eligible voter can cast a ballot.

By elimination of voter registration, I meant something like what people mean by “universal voter registration.” In other words, if someone asks “how can I become a voter?” we answer, “you have to register to vote” since we have this system of voter registration. Instead, if we eliminated voter registration, the answer is, “you are automatically registered when eligible to vote.” If we eliminate voter registration, no one has to register to vote. For the most part, this is the same notion as universal voter registration, and I think it would be better.

North Dakota does not have voter registration. Most democracies around the world do not ask their citizens to register to vote. So, we know it can work.

However, like most aspects of the voting system we have in the US, simple solutions have a way of becoming enormously complex. Our voting system has evolved in a very convoluted way. I will outline just a few things that come to mind:

Once we identify a function for government to handle (and pay for) on an on-going basis, the impulse from the Left tends to be “federalize it.” The impulse from the Right tends to be “eliminate it.” This is somewhat semantical in many cases. We're not going to give up on keeping track of who can cast a ballot, but we don't necessarily need to require voters to fill out some form to maintain their eligibility to vote. In summary, universal voter registration (or the elimination of voter registration), could work.

Implementation would be a great challenge and potentially highly problematic due to the way the US voting system has evolved over the years. If I had a couple more lifetimes to spend on it, I might want to try. I would probably steer away from a central federal database: achieve universal registration with federal standards and local mechanisms. In an ideal world, poll workers don't need ID cards or a federal database because they know everyone that comes into the poll site.

Sincerely, Alan Dechert

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