Beware the Nationalization of Voter Registration
Among the “solutions” being proposed to reduce lines at polling places is to nationalize our voter registration system and to automate certain portions of it. This idea reveals something of the split between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the merits of bigger enterprises. Liberals tend to believe efficiencies can be created by consolidation. Conservatives tend to be more skeptical.
When the now defunct Committee to Modernize Voter Registration started such chatter three years ago I wrote extensively about it.
Not much has changed since then. The federal government is flatly incapable of running a database of this magnitude, especially one that protects a fundamental right of every American citizen. Last year, the IRS couldn’t deliver refund checks to nearly 100,000 people.
It happens every year. Perhaps you were one of the 80,000 people denied Social Security benefits because of an error in their database. Over the course of months, perhaps they’ll straighten out your tax refund or social security payment. When they don’t process your voter registration correctly, there’s no waiting for the problem to be resolved.
Beyond that, residence is complicated. Most readers here are well aware of legal battles over residency when it comes to ballot access and voting. Fans of automation really don’t have an answer to people who appear in multiple databases with different addresses (students and snow birds, for example). They also don’t account for the multitude of databases that contain data for people ineligible to vote, such as noncitizens on driver’s license databases.
In the end, nationalizing and automating registration will bring increased chaos at the polling place, not less.
To the extent that we have voter registration issues, the best solution is further empowering voters. Increased use of online voter registration programs such as used by Arizona would increase the accuracy and validity of registrations. Databases should be designed to allow voters to receive updates on their registration status and to get a specimen ballot prior to the election.
And while liberals have fought the database matching requirements of HAVA, enforcement of those requirements would actually help voters as it would make it easier to keep their registrations up to date and make it less likely that they will be removed improperly. Any voter whose information doesn’t match, should be notified and allowed to correct the information.
Across America, states and local election officials have been leading the way on improving our voter registration system. It would be a tragedy to have those advances curtailed by a demonstrably inefficient federal government.
N.B. The views expressed herein are of the author and are not necessarily reflective of the RNLA.