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Monday, October 20, 2008

Re: Registration Persuasion

posted by on October 20 at 15:24 PM

Eli, your theory—that tons of Obama voters are registering because a text message from the candidate let them know today is the last day to register to vote in person—may or may not be true (I tend to hope, perhaps optimistically, that the massive GOTV effort by the Obama camp in this state had its biggest effect in the months and months before the final day to register). In any case, it points to a major, huge, glaring, nay overwhelming flaw in the voter-registration process in this state: You can only register to vote online or by mail until a month before an election. (Today’s deadline, 15 days before the election, is for people who want to register in person at the county elections office in Renton).

This is bullshit, although hardly unprecedented—of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., only a handful, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Vermont, have significantly shorter voter-registration deadlines, and only five—Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin—allow registration at the polling place on election day. (For a full list of deadlines, see here or below).

Why do registration deadlines matter? Because every hurdle you place in front of a potential voter—whether it’s a poll tax, a literacy requirement, or a deadline to fill out a form and register by mail—makes that person a little less likely to vote. The longer you give people to register (and the easier you make it for them to do so), the more you lower the barrier to entry and increase voter turnout, particularly among first-time voters, minority voters, and the young. (See, for example, here and here.)

But, you may say, who cares whether ignorant people have the right to vote? I knew I was supposed to register, and I managed to do it on time. There are a couple of problems with that argument. To say people ought to know better and register on time ignores the fact that information isn’t distributed equally throughout society—just because you happen to work downtown, for example, and get accosted by voter registrars on a daily basis, doesn’t mean everyone else is in the same circumstances. Many people—first-generation immigrants, for example, or single moms with two jobs—have to work much harder to get access to that same information. A truly fair system would allow everyone to register in person at the county elections office, and online, right up to election day—including at the polling place. Anything less disenfranchises some people who want to vote, which is more than we should allow.

Alabama: Ten days before.
Alaska: 30 days before.
Arizona: 29 days before.
Arkansas: 30 days before.
California: 15 days before.
Colorado: 29 days before.
Connecticut: One day before.
Delaware: 20 days before.
Washington, D.C.: 30 days before.
Florida: 29 days before.
Georgia: Five Mondays before.
Hawaii: 30 days before.
Idaho: Election Day.
Illinois: 28 days before.
Indiana: 28 days before.
Iowa: 10 days before.
Kansas: 15 days before.
Kentucky: 29 days before.
Louisiana: 30 days before.
Maine: Election Day.
Maryland: 21 days before.
Massachusetts: 20 days before.
Michigan: 30 days before.
Minnesota: Election Day.
Mississippi: 30 days before.
Missouri: Four Wednesdays before.
Montana: 30 days before.
Nebraska: Two Fridays before.
Nevada: Five Saturdays before.
New Hampshire: Election Day.
New Jersey: 21 days before.
New Mexico: 28 days before.
New York: 25 days before.
North Carolina: 25 days before.
North Dakota: No voter registration.
Ohio: 30 days before.
Oklahoma: 25 days before.
Oregon: 21 days before.
Pennsylvania: 30 days before.
Rhode Island: 30 days before.
South Carolina: 30 days before.
South Dakota: 15 days before.
Tennessee: 30 days before.
Utah: 30 days before (or in person on 15th or 18th day before the election)
Vermont: One Wednesday before.
Virginia: 29 days before.
Washington: 30 days before (or in person 15 days before).
Wisconsin: Election Day

RSS icon Comments


well said. thanks Erica!

Posted by elva | October 20, 2008 3:26 PM

"The longer you give people to register (and the easier you make it for them to do so), the more you lower the barrier to entry and increase voter turnout, particularly among first-time voters, minority voters, and the young."

I agree completely that registration deadlines lower voter turn out, but your list of those affected seems confusing. I understand it being a barrier to first-time voters (and presumably this directly ties to the comment about the young), but why minority voters? What do you mean by that? It seems rather offensive to me.

Posted by Ryan | October 20, 2008 3:53 PM

There are four people in my house, my wife and I and our two voting-age sons. Of the four of us, only one name in the voter registry matches the name on the driver's license, passport, etc. The so-called voter security law or whatever the hell propoganda name they put on it will disenfranchise a lot of unsuspecting people.

Posted by arborheightist | October 20, 2008 3:53 PM

Just a thought but does having a deadline ensure less voter fraud? I don't feel like googling to see if there was a study. Why do they have cut off dates in the first place?

Just curious.

Posted by Original Monique | October 20, 2008 3:57 PM

Wait, you don't have to register to vote in North Dakota? How does that work?

Posted by Ozymandias | October 20, 2008 4:04 PM

Ryan: It's not "offensive," it's a fact. Check out the links in my post, for a start.

Posted by ECB | October 20, 2008 4:06 PM

Voter registration itself is kind of BS.

Posted by w7ngman | October 20, 2008 4:10 PM

Yes, yes, we should all know the deadline and get our lazy asses registered on time. But this isn't a perfect world, and for any number of reasons, some people don't get registered on time.

Erica is right. Any barrier, no matter how small or trivial, has the potential to disenfranchise citizens. Election officials should bend over backwards to reduce or eliminate all barriers to voting.

These registration deadlines are completely arbitrary, and serve only one purpose: to make life easier for election officials. If registrations are turned in 30 days ahead of an election, it makes it easier for staffers to enter them into the system.

But that purpose is backwards. The election rules shouldn't be designed for the convenience of election staffers. They should be designed for the convenience of citizens. The needs of the citizens should always take priority over the needs of election workers. So what if it is more hassle? So what if you have to use a provisional ballot until you can be verified later? Isn't that more important than telling a citizen they can't vote?

Posted by Reverse Polarity | October 20, 2008 4:40 PM

I used to live in Wisconsin and I never noticed any issues with same day registration, it did not create any extra lines, and each time I registered same-day, it probably added an extra 5 or so minutes to voting. I also never heard about any issues with voter fraud. I live in CA now and today was the last day to mail in voter registration, so I just had to race to a nearby mailbox w/ a later pickup time to get my boyfriend's registration mailed. I totally agree that registration deadlines are an unnecessary barrier to voting to everyone.

Posted by bethbeth | October 20, 2008 4:50 PM

You know, in Canada, you can register and vote the day of the election.

And vote using paper ballot and pencil right then.


p.s. their election is 30 days - start to finish - period. with higher accuracy rates.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 20, 2008 4:55 PM

How about other barriers to voting? For example, provisional ballots for federal elections need to die, hard.

Posted by Greg | October 20, 2008 6:41 PM

I know this isn't a perfect analysis because of some outliers (like Montana 30-days out) but I would be willing to bet some cash money that the five states that allow day-of voter registration (Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho) are five of the eight whitest states in the union. Plus another white breader, Vermont, allows registration within less than a week.

Look at the political persuasions of those states, Maine and NH have two Republican U.S. Senators, Idaho has Larry Craig, its not a left/right thing -- its a white thing. It is a lot easier to trust the entire population when they mostly look like you, sort of like how socialism works in Scandinavia.

Anyway, food for thought.

Posted by BTB | October 20, 2008 9:33 PM

Rhode Island also allows registration on election day - so make that six. Although the ACLU is apparently in the process of suing the Board of Canvassers to change that.

Posted by Cc | October 21, 2008 8:15 AM

You don't have to re-register for the draft every time you move.

Every state should have same-day voter registration.

In addition, people convicted of felonies should not have their voting rights removed. They are still citizens of a democracy.

And there should be a system so that a voter can verify that their vote will be counted before leaving the polling place.

Posted by Diana | October 21, 2008 8:35 AM

Why should you have to register in advance at all?

I'm a Canadian and we can register right at the polling booth. I just need to have proof of ID and proof of address with me.

This year I didn't even have proper ID (I had just moved) but my neighbour was permitted to take an oath vouching that I was who I said I was.

You should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.

Posted by cam | October 21, 2008 8:41 AM

This country has a long and proud history of voter fraud.

Posted by six shooter | October 21, 2008 10:19 AM

"Why do registration deadlines matter? Because every hurdle you place in front of a potential voter—whether it’s a poll tax, a literacy requirement, or a deadline to fill out a form and register by mail—makes that person a little less likely to vote."

Shock horror! Putting the minimal qualification of having to fill out a form by a deadline in front of potential voter means they actually have to demonstrate a scintilla of thought and commitment to the democratic process! We can't have that going on. That's completely unfair to people who don't think, and therefore inimical to Democrats.

Posted by Seajay | October 21, 2008 3:18 PM

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