Same-day voter registration would go national under Ellison bill


U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has introduced a bill that would extend Minnesota-style, same-day voting rights to all eligible Americans in federal elections. 

The Same Day Registration Act would let people register at the polling place on Election Day rather than requiring registration weeks or months ahead of time, as most states do.

Same-day registration is already law in seven nine states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia. (North Dakota is the only state to do without voter registration altogether.)

Common Cause claims those states see voter-turnout rates as much as 7 percent higher than others; a 2009 Cal Tech/MIT study (pdf) confirms that “election day registration can increase turnout significantly” and doesn’t increase costs or fraud.

It’s an Upper Midwest thing, it seems. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is the bill’s sponsor in the U.S. Senate, where Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Iowa’s Tom Harkin are co-sponsors. In the House, two of five co-sponsors are Minnesotans: Tim Walz and Jim Oberstar. So far, the bill’s sponsors are all Democrats.

In a statement, Ellison said,

Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter turnout – usually over 70 percent. … Enacting a National Election Day Registration law would do for the nation what same day registration has done for our State – give a voice to all who want to vote.

That 70 percent figure applies to years with presidential races. In off-year elections, turnout has run about 10 percentage points lower.

Ellison’s statement also quotes Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie calling same-day registration a “no brainer” and claiming it is more secure than other states’ systems that require registration in advance, because “you have the person right in front of you – not a postcard in the mail.”

In the U.S. Senate election recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, Minnesota showed the nation flaws in its absentee-voting system – some involving the mail. Other states saw major controversies over voter registration in last year’s election. One was Colorado, where the secretary of state purged 44,000 voters from the registration rolls before Election Day, in defiance of court orders. A few hundred managed to cast provisional ballots that were counted.

Ellison’s bill comes just as millions across the country prepare to go to the polls next Tuesday – that is, as long as they’ve registered beforehand, in states where that’s required.

In Minnesota, officials expect half a million voters to turn out. But who knows? A few million more could decide to exercise their franchise on the spur of the moment, and if they haven’t registered yet, no biggie.

Here’s the key language in Ellison’s bill (H.R. 3957):

[E]ach State shall permit any eligible individual on the day of a Federal election and on any day when voting, including early voting, is permitted for a Federal election (A) to register to vote in such election at the polling place using a form that meets the requirements under section 9(b) of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993; and (B) to cast a vote in such election.

The bill’s first stop in the House in the Committee on House Affairs. None of the members of that committee come from states with same-day voter registration.