On a typical afternoon walk down Locust, you can expect to be bombarded by fliers. This was the scene about a month before Election Day as well. The only difference was that the goal of many flier-bearers was to register people to vote. Not a single day went by that I wasn’t asked, “Did you register to vote yet?” But despite seeing our peers standing out in the cold everyday, passionately trying to get us to take part in one of the most important civic responsibilities, Penn’s voter turnout wasn’t as high as it could have been.
Why didn’t more people vote? Reasons vary, but many eligible voters simply missed the registration deadline. College sophomore Jeanette Elstein said that she originally wanted to vote in her home state of New York, but she added, “I didn’t know how, and time kept passing, and by the time I thought to look into it, it was too late to register for an absentee.”
An estimated 25 to 30 percent of eligible voters are not registered, according to FairVote, the Center for Voting and Democracy. In most states, eligible voters are required to register several weeks to a month in advance of Election Day. And, if for some reason they’re unable to register before the deadline, they can’t vote. No exceptions. Getting an absentee ballot is even more complicated because you often have to request one even further in advance. To make voting easier, Pennsylvania should consider allowing same-day voter registration.
Voter turnout has been a problem in this country for years. In terms of the proportion of registered voters who vote, we ranked 55th in the world in 2003. Because the United States is one of the world’s first modern democracies, this statistic is appalling. In Pennsylvania, less than half of registered voters showed up at the polls for this year’s midterm election, according to The Scranton Times-Tribune.
Political groups around the country have been campaigning to bring more registered voters to the polls. Yet something that some seem not to realize is that haranguing people to vote doesn’t do any good when they’re not registered. Same-day voter registration could be the solution. According to the nonpartisan research group Demos, it has been shown to improve voter turnout by as much as 12 percent.
Furthermore, same-day registration could increase turnout in demographics that are among the least likely to vote. Researchers at California Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that young people, frequent movers, people lower on the socioeconomic ladder, nonwhites and newly naturalized citizens could significantly benefit from same-day registration.
So why might this practice not be the norm in all 50 states? One of the main arguments against having same-day registration is that requiring people to register in advance discourages voter fraud. This rationale makes sense. If you were to register to vote in Pennsylvania on Election Day, for instance, it would be difficult to tell whether you had already submitted an absentee ballot beforehand, or if you had voted earlier in another state.
However, Political Science professor Neil Malhotra does not think voter fraud is a major problem in this country. He believes that “voter fraud is overblown.” He went on to say, however, that if voter fraud were a major concern, all same-day registration ballots could be made provisional until all the facts were verified. Additionally, with the advent of state-wide voter indexes, workers at polling places can proactively detect fraud.
One of the major reasons why we’re still going strong after almost 250 years is that we regularly exercise our rights — the right to publish our ideas, the right to vote and the right to liberty. Knowing this, it seems that barring people from the polls would be un-American.
Laura Cofsky is a College sophomore from New York. Her e-mail address is cofsky@theDP.com. Penn Name appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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