Though we take voter registration for granted, it was actually intended as a means to prevent voting. Specifically, it was invented in the 19th century to restrict voting by the “wrong” people; specifically, to interfere with voting by immigrants and the newly freed slaves. It’s still used in other states to make voting unnecessarily difficult. Some states have deadlines that come so early that few people are thinking about elections, or they get finicky about the precise sort of paper new registrations are submitted on. Tennessee tried to make registering voters practically a crime.
This might be a peculiar thought if, like me, you’ve spent a lot of time asking prospective voters to register — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We could assemble voter lists from other databases. Some states already do this. We already have the data voters are asked to provide. Provide a drivers license or state ID number? Who issues those? Oh right, the state that’s asking for it.
It was a step forward to let people register to vote when they get a state ID or drivers license, which I’m mostly sure Minnesota was first to do, but we should take out even that step. Take the ID/license database and copy it over to the voter lists. Schools know when students turn 18 and that information could be used to register teenagers who just became legal adults, so they can do adult stuff. Like voting.
Ever pay state income taxes, or apply for the property tax refund? Then you have already given the state the information it wants to register you to vote.
If you believe more people exercising their right to vote makes for a healthier democracy, then you should support this in principle because we know that if we can just get people registered, they’re highly likely to turn up at the polls. We can still have election day registration — where Minnesota was first again, by the way — for eligible voters who somehow didn’t get picked up from the other databases.
Sure, I’m going to miss all those hours trying talk people into registering. On second thought, no, I won’t miss that at all.