The right of all citizens to vote is an essential ingredient to a democratic government and one challenge that is faced, particularly in countries of millions of potential voters, is identifying the eligible ones. In the United States, the problems associated with voter registration for the 2012 elections have reached crisis level with millions of citizens being potentially turned away at the voting booth. By large majorities, Americans of both parties agree that citizens who wish to vote should be able to do so without difficulty. This starts with being easily and accurately identified at their polling station. There should be working strategies to ensure that any citizen can walk into their appropriate polling station, be identified and vote.
There is some suspicion that certain politicians are working to use voter fraud as a Trojan horse to pass restrictive voting practices. It should be clear to both parties that such practices will not be tolerated by the people. However, it is possible to achieve better protection against voter fraud while at the same time helping people vote. Currently, as a measure against voter fraud, our system requires people to get registered to vote and, as anyone who follows the news will know, there has been plenty of controversy with the progress of getting people registered especially the poor or vulnerable.
Non-government campaigns to register voters, after they obtain the permission to operate from an often unwelcoming government, have met with mixed success. Recently, many of these groups’ activities have been curtailed, again with the intention of preventing voter fraud. ACORN, an organization made infamous when FOX News exposed some questionable practices by some of its chapters, used to work registering voters but was shut down over voter fraud concerns.
Multiple strategies have been proposed to fix the problem of voter identification including everything from Election Day registration to Internet voting and mail registration. Early voting and mail voting have been used to allow voters the time needed to fix registration issues.
One partial solution that has been successful in certain states is provisional voting where, if a polling station is not able to identify a voter, they can be issued a provisional ballot allowing the person to vote. The ballot is only counted later if their identity is confirmed and only after it is determined that these provisional votes could make a difference in that particular election.
An idea that was actually passed by Congress in the National Voter Registration Act is known as public agency registration. The law required certain government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Food Stamp Program to offer people the chance to be registered. The key idea is that people can be registered to vote while accessing other government services.
Why Voter Registration is Not That Hard
I thought I might propose an idea that I’m sure is out there but that I haven’t been able to find suggested. There could be a government program to register and give voting identification to every eligible person in the country at public or private high schools.
It could be organized at a young enough age, even before they are able to vote, to ensure that 99% of the citizens of the country were included so that areas with more high school dropouts aren’t disadvantaged. School attendance is compulsory in the U.S. until age 14 in all states. When kids turn 14 they could be given voting identification with a birthday on it, and maybe a “valid on” date. People wouldn’t be compelled to vote when they reach voting age, like in some other countries, but they would have the ability to do so if they wanted to.
Voter registration is a critical issue to insure the fairness of elections which simply does not need to be a problem. Every American can be registered to vote without our privacy being infringed on or our wallets emptied. It makes sense that in a working democracy, government should have an interest in making it easier for people to vote. It will be more difficult for the U.S. to spread democratic voting rights internationally if people here at home are disenfranchised. America can once again be the city on a hill, admired by those around us for our system of government. First, we have some registering to do.
Here is the federal government’s webpage for voter registration where you can pick your state.