The Problem With Automatic Voter Registration

Tonight at Hillary Clinton’s debut on the Ricki Lake Christiane Amanpour CNN Townhall, there was a discussion about “mandatory voting” (what is this, China?) and “Automatic Voter registration.”

Election Law Blog notes:

5:55 p.m.: Asked if there should be mandatory voting, Clinton “no,” but argued “there should be automatic registration.”

“When a young person turns 18, that young person should be registered to vote,” she said. “And I deplore the efforts by some to restrict the right to vote.”

Now, I suppose trial lawyers might love the idea of a bigger jury pool — or maybe they won’t. Friend of the blog and former professor of mine Doc Lawrence says:

I actually don’t have a problem with this (although I think automatic registration would not have a very large effect on voter turnout; frankly I think the biggest depressing factors in the US are election fatigue and weekday voting).

Doc’s views are on point, but my concern with automatic voter registration is one of procedure. I think it would probably cause a lot of problems.

Potential candidates for President usually don’t campaign on non-federal issues, so I don’t think we’re assuming wrongly that Hillary is talking about a federal proposal to automatically register voters*. (*= Assuming felons, green card holders, illegal aliens excepted.)

Typically, and with some notable exceptions, election law  is left up to the states. But the feds do have the ultimate say.

Oregon has been considering such a measure:

which would allow the state to automatically register any Oregonian when a state agency already has their name, age, address and digital signature

Whereby:

The measure calls for using driver’s license data from the state to automatically register people if they are citizens and meet other criteria for voting. Under the bill, the secretary of state’s office would send a postcard to all new registrants giving them a chance to opt out of registering.

Now, imagine 50 some odd voting jurisdictions forced by the federal government to coordinate sorting this mess out. Yes, they already have to coordinate it, but imagine adding lots of young people who are going to be transient for the near future, and don’t vote in great numbers.

What’s the point? Registering to vote is not hard.

Compounding the problem is that these kids go to college, meet an activist in the dorm/on the street who convinces them to sign a petition and register to vote for whatever cause. Their driver’s license, license plate, state where they pay income taxes all (likely wrongly) might be another state.

But now they think they’re registered to vote in another state despite all of that. And come fall, assuming they don’t lose interest, they plan to vote there.

Or maybe when they’re back home they plan to vote back home. Surprise!

With Oregon, somebody decides to change their driver’s license while attending college in Oregon to get in-state tuition. But, they still (wrongly) consider themselves residents of the state where their parents live, and still pay taxes and vote there.

Dumb as it seems, these things happen — and my friends who think I am a residency Nazi are also the same ones trying to convince me that keeping their out of state whatever isn’t some sort of fraud. (The DC/MD/VA area is pretty harsh on failing to become a resident.)

And these are adults we’re talking about — not 22 year olds.

Residency, we’re told, is all about intent — and people love cheating for whatever reason. Whether it’s taxes, making their vote “count more”, or their silly customized license plates they’ve had.

If Oregon, a state with just under 4 million residents expects an automatic voter ID law would result in 500,000 new voters, you can imagine the complications that would cause across the country in keeping the system safe and fair.

My opinion is that the complications of the real world get in the way when it comes to a national automatic voting system, and on top of that, it’s pretty much an unfunded mandate.

Enjoy jury duty!

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