How can the United States prevent voter fraud and make it easier to register to vote?

Ever since the United States was founded, Americans have been fighting over who should be able to vote. That battle has intensified since the 2020 election. Republicans and others on the right argue that to prevent voter fraud, states should require voters to show ID at the polls and should regularly remove voter rolls they don’t vote for. have recently voted. Democrats and others on the left argue that it should be easier to vote, in part to attract citizens from traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups. This group sometimes claims that efforts to prevent fraud amount to voter suppression.

How can these apparently conflicting concerns be resolved? Our research finds that both goals, reducing fraud and making voting easier, can be achieved through automatic voter registration.

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Some states have already made it easier to register to vote

Before they can cast their vote, an American must register to vote. In most states, this involves finding out when and where to register, purchasing and completing the form (in person or online), and showing the necessary documents to prove citizenship and state residency.

What if there was an easier way?

Some states have already eliminated complicated registration procedures. In North Dakota, you can vote without being registered, as long as you can show identification, such as a driver’s license, to show that you are eligible. In many other states, you can register up until Election Day.

However, many election administrators and voters find early registration helpful. That way, election administrators can plan properly to have enough polling places, ballots, and officials available. For voters, the registry brings election and referendum background mailings and other advance notices that can remind them when and where to cast their vote.

Is there an option that maintains a voter registration list and at the same time eases the burden on citizens? Some states have found what they think is the solution: automatic voter registration. In this type of process, the state automatically registers any eligible voter who interacts with state databases, such as when applying for or renewing a driver’s license. To do this, the state links its voter registration list with other population lists the state is already collecting. For example, when you renew a driver’s license, if you’re a US citizen, the computer checks to see if your name, age, and address are on the voter rolls, and if not, adds you automatically.

That frees citizens from an administrative task and potentially increases the accuracy of registration lists.

Some have argued that this could result in inaccurate registrations, for example by inadvertently registering non-citizens, causing confusion at the polls. Is that accurate?

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The evidence and global experience

In our research on voter registration around the world, we found that government agencies often use existing databases to create a list of voters. In our research, 78 countries around the world automatically register voters in some way, out of a sample of 156. Others share databases to facilitate voting in some way that is not entirely automatic, but receives information from other databases. from government data or subnational election officials. like Canada does. For example, the Finnish population register automatically creates a list of eligible voters that is provided to election officials six weeks before the election.

Our research finds that countries with some form of government-initiated or automatic voter registration tend to have more complete and accurate lists than systems in which people must register. They list more people who are eligible to vote and do so more accurately, updating addresses, for example, when there is a postal change, without the voter having to tell the registrar when they move.

Some US states have joined this trend. Since the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, states must allow voters to register at motor vehicle agencies. But there has been a bigger push more recently. In 2021, Hawaii became the latest state to pass a law allowing automatic voter registration. Other state legislatures are working on similar bills.

Automatic voter registration does not appear to substantially increase turnout, according to recent research. But by making voting lists more complete and accurate, states can make it easier for some population groups, especially minorities and poorer citizens, to vote.

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The United States does not have national or state population registries, so how can you automatically register voters?

When a country doesn’t have centralized, reliable data on its citizens, it must find other ways to register voters. In the UK, for example, some advocates recommend that the country automatically register citizens to vote at key moments in life using Social Security databases or when applying for a passport. Many US states could use a similar approach, capturing key data when citizens interact with government agencies ranging from the Department of Motor Vehicles to social service agencies.

Heated partisan debates over the rules of democracy can undermine trust in democratic institutions and complicate policy making. Academic evidence suggests that automatic voter registration can generate accurate and complete records, expanding and safeguarding democracy.

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holly ann garnett (@hollyanngarnett) is an associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada, co-director of the Electoral Integrity Project, and co-editor (with Michael Pal) of Cyber ‚Äč‚Äčthreats to Canadian democracy(McGill-Queen University Press, 2022).

toby s james (@tobysjames) is a professor of politics and public policy at the University of East Anglia, UK, co-director of the Electoral Integrity Project, and author of Comparative Electoral Management: Performance, Networks and Instruments (Routledge, 2020).

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