Friday, 31 October 2014 00:00

4 Simple Ways to Improve Voting

Written by DeNora Getachew | Brennan Center for Justice

Election Day is just a few days away and voters have begun to focus on what's at stake. But in New York and many states, if you have not registered to vote by now, it is already too late -- you will not be able to cast a ballot on Tuesday. What's more, in the Empire State and more than a dozen others there is no way to vote in person before Election Day.

In 2014, our voting system is still stuck in the 19th century. America must modernize it -- and finally bring it into the digital age. This can be done by streamlining voter registration and increasing early voting opportunities. Modernization would add 50 million new voters to the rolls, reduce costs, and curb the potential for fraud. Here's how it works.

1. Revamp voter registration.

The system relies heavily on pen-and-paper forms, which lead to typos and errors in registration records. Adding more electronic options would help get more voters on the rolls and keep them there by increasing accuracy and efficiency.

For instance, online registration allows eligible citizens to register -- and to more easily check and update their records -- through a secure online portal. New York offers online registration to those with a Department of Motor Vehicles identification, but that should be expanded to include more eligible citizens. If voters can bank and shop online, it makes no sense that they cannot register to vote online, too.

2. Undergo a tech face-lift.

We can upgrade technology at government offices to help citizens register to vote. When voters interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies, those offices should transfer registration information electronically to election officials.

This would create a seamless experience for the voter, since the registration would take place as part of an underlying transaction. Although many state agencies are required to offer this opportunity under federal law, they still rely on analog systems.

In New York City, for example, voters are supposed to be offered the opportunity to register when they interact with 18 city agencies.

But according to a review by the Brennan Center for Justice and other nonprofits, that seldom happens. In 84 percent of interactions, agency officials failed to give citizens the opportunity to register.

The groups issued recommendations, including implementing electronic registration and other reforms.

3. Implement same-day registration.

State laws need to be changed to include more time to register. Most states cut off registration weeks before an election -- before many voters are even paying attention. That leaves too many citizens outside the democratic process. Instead, voters should be allowed to show up on Election Day to register or to update their registration status and cast a ballot. This turnout-boosting reform would provide much-needed flexibility for today's mobile society.

4. Bring about early voting.

We need to create more options to vote early, something even President Barack Obama did earlier this month. Confining voting to a single day does not account for the realities of modern life. New York is one of only 18 states nationwide that does not give every eligible citizen a chance to vote in person before Election Day. Early voting helps election officials by reducing stress on the system and shortening lines on Election Day, and it helps voters by improving access.

It's time to modernize

Modernizing our antiquated system would help voters and election officials alike. Hopefully, when legislative sessions begin next year, leaders in New York and other statehouses will take steps to modernize our laws to ensure voting is free, fair and widely accessible to all eligible citizens.

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