The Right to Vote
Elections are administered by authorities on the state level, which means that state elections officials bear the responsibility of protecting and promoting their citizens’ right to vote. This responsibility requires elections officials to make the path to the polling place as smooth as possible, and begins with ensuring that all eligible voters have easy access to modern registration services.
In order to bring voter registration into the 21st Century, we are advocating for specific reforms that have been demonstrated to be extremely effective at expanding and maintaining accurate voter rolls.
Following the November 2012 election, and widespread reports of long lines and other election administration issues at polling places across the country, Americans have seen the importance of measures that expand. State-level efforts to expand access to the polls including expanding early voting, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration.
The ACLU also pushes states to repeal Jim Crow-era laws that take away the rights of citizens with criminal convictions.
Same Day Registration (SDR)
In most states, many qualified voters are turned away from the polls on Election Day because they did not register to vote before the registration deadline.
In states that offer same-day registration – also called Election Day registration – those who are qualified but unregistered can register to vote at their polling place or election clerk’s office on Election Day (or during the early voting period) and vote that same day. In order to register, potential voters must supply proof of residency verifying that they are able to vote in that state, and a form of personal identification.
Given modern technology—which enables states to maintain accurate statewide voter registration lists and verify the eligibility of applicants instantaneously—there is no reason that qualified voters should be turned away from the polls because of the failure to comply with an arbitrary deadline weeks before an election. Moreover, states that have implemented SDR enjoy voter turnout rates 10 to 12 percentage points higher than states without SDR.
Currently, 11 states – Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – and the District of Columbia offer some form of SDR. Implementation of SDR in California and Hawaii is pending. Utah enacted legislation in 2014 creating a same-day registration pilot program in several counties. The ACLU is advocating to expand same-day registration throughout the country.
In the 21st Century, Americans should be able to register to vote online. Allowing voters to register or update their voter registration online makes voter registration easier and more expedient. Streamlining the process of voter registration increases voter rolls; makes it more likely that voters register in time to vote on Election Day; and eliminates the extra steps of processing paper registration forms, thereby reducing election costs.
Although the increasing availability of online registration is an extremely positive trend, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all eligible voters who would like to register online may do so. Many online voter applications require potential voters to provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security card, but do not make provisions for individuals without those forms of identification. Moreover, many online registration services are not accessible to people with vision disabilities and those with movement disabilities who cannot write consistent signatures.
In our state-based efforts we are pushing for online registration services without burdensome ID requirements, and that are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Currently 22 states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Washington – have implemented online voter registration services.
Bills to create online voter registration services have also passed in an additional four states – Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and West Virginia – and implementation is pending.
Registration Through the Affordable Care Act
In addition to expanding access to affordable health insurance, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has expanded access to voter registration services as well. According to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) – also known as the “motor voter” law – all government agencies that provide public benefits are required to provide voter registration services as well. Because both state and federal insurance exchanges are classified as such government agencies, anyone passing through the exchanges to register for health insurance should have the opportunity to easily register to vote as well. Although the NVRA is very clear about states’ requirements to designate their insurance exchanges as voter registration agencies, some states have failed to comply with the law. We are working in state legislatures to ensure that all states fulfill their responsibility to offer convenient voter registration services to everyone passing through the ACA insurance exchanges.