The Case for Automatic Voter Registration

Increasing voter turnout in the U.S. will mean addressing the obstacles that keep people from participating at each step of the process.  Currently in most U.S. states the first hurdle is getting registered to vote. Increasing voter registration is often difficult because it has to happen months before an election when there is less excitement and less motivation to take action. This may seem like an inevitable challenge of the democratic process but the truth is that voter registration is only an impediment to participation because most places require people to take action and opt in to registering. Making the process of voter registration automatic removes the first obstacle to voting, facilitates increased participation, and can help make sure that the voter rolls are more accurate and current.

The process of automatic voter registration (AVR) is fairly simple and basically what it sounds like; a person is automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, or depending on the state, complete other state paperwork. In AVR states, when someone fills in the paperwork to get a license their information goes directly from the DMV to the election office and then they are registered as a voter unless they take steps to opt out. As of this summer, 10 states and DC have some form of AVR.

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Ranked Choice Voting, Voting Splitting and the Impact on Third Party Candidates

Florida 2000 Presidential Election Results

 

A voting system is supposed to allow voters to choose their elected officials, not choose for them. But which election system is used can actually have a significant impact on who gets elected and who doesn’t. The plurality voting system currently used in most U.S. elections is subject to what’s known as “vote splitting” and the “spoiler effect”. This phenomenon has had unfortunate consequences for candidates and voters in a number of specific elections, and it also means that in U.S. elections in general third-party candidates are at a disadvantage. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) on the other hand empowers multiple candidates to run even if they overlap on some issues, because they can get high rankings from the same voters without worrying about splitting the vote.

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Ranked Choice Voting and Voter Participation

Note: This post is a part of an ongoing series of posts about Ranked Choice Voting.  You can find other posts in the series here, with more posts to come.

Voter participation in the U.S. is hard to pin down. It can be measured as percentage of registered voters, eligible voters, those of voting age, or of the population as a whole. Participation is higher in presidential elections with new candidates then when one is up for re-election, with even lower turnout for midterm elections, primaries, and municipal races. And voting rates vary widely from state to state, district to district, and demographic to demographic. Increasing the benefits of voting, and or decreasing the obstacles in order to improve voter turnout is not a straightforward proposition with a one size fits all solution.

Still, it’s easy to see why in recent years Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is appealing to many who are looking for ways increase voter turnout. In certain types of elections RCV can eliminate the need for primaries so people only need to make the effort to vote once. Ranking also offers people more choices and doesn’t alienate those who don’t want a major party candidate and it gives each vote more meaning since all votes will affect a candidate’s outcome. RCV also encourages civility during the campaign as each candidate can still benefit from being the number two choice of their opponent’s supporters.

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Amicus Briefs on SC Gerrymandering case – Is The Tide Finally Turning?

Credit: Flickr https://flic.kr/p/92AJmt

On October 3, the Supreme Court will hear the Oral Arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case where voters challenged Wisconsin’s state assembly map.

From the Brennan Center article:

The briefs forcefully refute the familiar argument that partisan gerrymandering is mainly about whether Democrats or Republicans come out on top electorally. For example, a brief filed by prominent Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Bob Dole, and Dick Lugar, among others, asserts that “[i]f th[e Supreme] Court does not stop partisan gerrymanders, partisan politicians will be emboldened to enact ever more egregious gerrymanders . . . That result would be devastating for our democracy.”

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain—in a brief filed with Senator Whitehouse—warned that “[p]artisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process.” A bipartisan group of 65 current and former state lawmakers, and a bipartisan coalition of current and former members of Congress have also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

You can read more about the case and the briefs filed here.  It’s worth a read.  This is an important case to watch.