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A Crash Course in Same-Day Registration
The Democracy Dispatch (Edition #43)
Hello everyone! Welcome back to The Democracy Dispatch by Equal Citizens. Apologies for the short hiatus. This week, as promised we are going to introduce our policy exploration section. Our focus will be on same-day registration, one of our favorite reforms. We will explain how this critical policy works and where it is currently used.
Before jumping in, we want to highlight a recent week of action led by Black Voters Matter and partners to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March. As you may know, the Selma March, also known as Bloody Sunday, was a critical moment in the fight to pass the original Voting Rights Act. We are all indebted to those marchers who endured unimaginable violence in order to fight for an inclusive democracy. The commemoration march began on March 6th and concluded with a rally in Montgomery on Friday, March 11th. Cliff Albright, one of the founders of Black Voters Matter, reflected on the experience and the events of each day. You can read his op-ed about the March here.
Okay, let’s dig in.
Policy Exploration: Same-Day Registration (SDR)
Same-day registration (SDR) is exactly what it sounds like. SDR allows eligible citizens to register (or update their registration) and cast a ballot on Election Day. Simply put, it eliminates the voter registration deadline, ensuring that no one is turned away from the polls if they did not register in time for the election.
As of now, twenty-two states have passed some version of SDR (although some have yet to implement it). It is critical to understand that not all SDR programs are alike. The main difference is whether the registration period will cover early voting. In some states, such as North Carolina and Montana (as of 2021), voters only use SDR during early voting. In other states, like Wyoming, Idaho, and Connecticut, same day registration is allowed only on Election Day, and not during any available early voting period (for this reason, the program in these states is referred to as Election Day Registration). The most effective policy allows registration to occur both during early voting and on Election Day, like in Michigan and Vermont.
Another key thing to know about SDR programs is that states may vary in the locations that they offer SDR. Some states allow for voters to register at their polling places. Others only allow for SDR registrations at town or county offices. Moreover, states vary in the documentation that one needs to provide to register on Election Day. Reasonable documentation is critical to ensure the system is both accessible and secure.
Why should we care about SDR? Well, most simply, it greatly reduces the barriers to voting. Registration deadlines are one of the biggest hurdles to casting a ballot for those traditionally on the margins of the political system. If you’ve never participated in elections, you may well not know how to navigate the registration process and not be aware that you have to (in some states) register up to 30 days before the election. But it isn’t just those who haven’t participated in elections before that benefit from SDR. If you move frequently or are the victim of a processing error by election officials, SDR serves as a critical failsafe to ensure you can update your registration and still cast a ballot.
Overall, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, same-day registration increases voter turnout by an average of 5%. One recent study shows that SDR not only removes barriers to voting across the board, it can also help increase turnout in Black and Latinx communities. More concretely, it found that Black and Latinx turnout is between 2 and 17 percentage points higher in states with SDR compared to states without it. Additionally, another study found that SDR significantly increases youth voter turnout. This makes sense as young people tend to relocate more frequently and are therefore more likely to need to re-register. SDR is a simple, proven way to increase voter turnout across the board and reduce inequities in ballot access. We fully support all efforts to expand its use.
Is Expansion Realistic?
At the federal level, same-day registration was part of the For The People Act, and then its successor, the Freedom to Vote Act. While these bills were unfortunately blocked by the filibuster, same-day registration was one of the bills’ most popular reforms. According to an April 2021 poll from Vox and Data for Progress, 63% of Americans, including 84% of Democrats, 49% of Republicans, and 49% of Independents supported SDR. Only 27% of likely voters opposed SDR.
The soil is fertile for state-by-state expansion of SDR. As we stated above, over 20 jurisdictions offer (or will soon offer) some form of same-day registration. These range from Republicans-dominated states such as Idaho to deep-blue Democratic California. In 2021, Virginia became the most recent state to pass same-day registration, which will take effect in October 2022.
It’s also important to note that SDR is not a new reform. Three states — Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — began offering registration on Election Day in the 1970s. Another three — Idaho, New Hampshire, and Wyoming — adopted it in the 1990s. And there has been a wave of new SDR states over the past decade. These states have proven through example that same-day registration offers a safe and effective way to increase political engagement in our democracy.
If there is one problematic development, it’s that Republicans are working to undermine existing SDR laws. Members of the Virginia GOP are currently attempting to repeal the state’s new SDR law. Republicans similarly repealed SDR in Montana last year.
That said, we believe widespread adoption of SDR is feasible over the next few years. It’s popular. It works. And it’s good for democracy.
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More About Us:
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and double minoring in sociology and economics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Kate Travis is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a senior at Harvard studying History and Literature with a minor in Government and a citation in Spanish. When she is not writing about democracy, Kate spends her time running, drinking coffee, and watching bad romcoms with her friends. Follow her on Twitter.
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