Ending same-day registration hurts more than helps
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 03:12
The November elections are over and the Republicans once again have a majority in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature. Wisconsin is a true swing state. It can quickly turn from retaining a Republican governor facing recall to supporting a Democratic presidential candidate and electing the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. With a regained majority in such a schizophrenic state, what does the governor propose to do? Gov. Scott Walker is floating the idea of ending same-day voter registration.
Wisconsin was the first state to implement same-day registration, and is one of only eight that currently have it. Same-day voter registration is a policy that allows citizens to register to vote on election day itself. Otherwise, Wisconsin voters would have to register at a local voter registration office at least one day before the election or 20 days before by other means.
Walker spoke of ending same-day voter registration during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California. He said the reason to end it is poll workers are overworked and should not be subjected to high volumes of last second registrants.
“It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day,” Walker said. “It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that.”
The last big change in Wisconsin’s voting system came with 2011’s Act 23, or the voter identification bill. If fully implemented, this bill would not only require specific types of identification at the polls, it would also change the residency requirement from 10 days to 28. The photo ID requirement in the bill has since had two injunctions placed on it by separate judges and is awaiting action by the Court of Appeals.
The change in the residency requirement, however, is currently in effect. This change seems harmless, but college students have already faced challenges at the polls. Students who registered to vote for the recall election or voted in primaries while at school were turned away at the polls at home because they had not yet been at their new address for the 28 days required.
This turning away of legitimate voters naturally results in lower turnouts. Ending same-day voter registration would have a similar effect by making registration too difficult or confusing for some voters to comply.
David Siemers, professor of political science, said democracy depends on the turnout of the electorate and that same-day voter registration is partly responsible for Wisconsin’s high turnout rate.
Act 23 was meant to eliminate voter fraud, but the removal of same-day registration has nothing to do with stopping voter fraud or keeping our elections fair and secure. Trying to lighten the load of poll workers is noble, but it definitely does not outweigh the possible damage to voter participation. Further reducing turnout with more restrictive voter registration would be detrimental to the political health of our state.
Ashley Smith-Niely, a sophomore biology major, said the rules around voter registration already make it difficult and losing same-day registration would make the process even harder.
“I don’t think you should get rid of it,” Smith-Niely said.
Andre Mannenbach, a sophomore history major, said, “As a country, historically we’ve been moving toward universal suffrage.”
He also said =ending same-day registration would be a step backward.
“Personally, I’m in favor of no registration,” Siemers said.
Siemers said he would favor a system similar to North Dakota’s, which has no voter registration.
“Why go through the extra step?” Siemers said.
The United States already has the ability to end the registration requirement for voting: the infrastructure already exists, the information is available and multiple agencies could provide oversight to safeguard elections.
Rather than streamlining the process, Walker has made a proposal that would weaken it. If ending same-day registration lowers turnout, and lower turnouts hurt democracy, then this is a proposal that should not be taken lightly.
Instead of ending same-day registration if the clerks and volunteers are overworked, the government could hire extra part-time help. After all, Walker is claiming Wisconsin now has a budget surplus.
The removal of same-day registration would also most likely remove the exemption Wisconsin has from federal laws that would require voter registration to be done at places like the Department of Motor Vehicles. These changes could end up costing the state more money, so they do not make sense financially either.
Ending same-day voter registration continues the policy of the Walker administration to make elections more secure, but the policy also makes voting more difficult for Wisconsin residents.
It can be argued whether the benefits of these changes outweigh their negative effects, but it seems they do not.