Festival 1

The Case for Modernizing Voter Registration

Recall the long lines at the polls in 2012? For the 2014 midterms, the nation faced a different challenge: the worst turnout in more than 70 years, with just 36.3 percent of eligible Americans voting.

On the one hand, we have an electorate increasingly frustrated by partisan, polarized politics, a gridlocked Congress, and an election season dominated by special interests.

On the other hand, for those who still want to participate, the nation faces an election administration system not up to the task of modern life — with a blizzard of paper records, rife with errors, causing Election Day chaos and long lines. Many are also stymied by laws confining voting to a single day.

For the leading democracy in the world, this must change.

We must modernize American elections to work for the 21st century — both how voters register and how they cast ballots. Upgrading registration to include more online and electronic options would increase participation by adding up to 50 million new voters to the rolls. It would also create more accurate lists, curb the opportunity for fraud, and cut costs. By requiring states to expand early voting to a minimum of 10 days, including Saturdays and Sundays, we can also give voters more opportunities and reduce the Election Day rush. This makes a world of difference to low-income voters and communities of color, not to mention the elderly and those who reside in rural areas.

Modernizing the voter registration system for the 21st century, which will make it easier for millions to cast ballots that count, will give us a shot at harnessing the power of a more engaged electorate. What’s more: it will help to give everyone a stake in our democracy, and as a result, improve our communities. In the face of increasingly jarring inequality, boosting the voices of ordinary citizens is more important than ever.

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Idea No. 112