A Few Things You Might Not Know about Early Voter Registration

castaballot2We all know that the right to vote in elections is one of the most cherished and unique freedoms available to United States citizens. Americans of all political stripes recognize that the right to vote is the cornerstone of our freely-elected democracy and a crucial tenet that sets us apart from many other nations.

But too often, eligible voters face barriers such as work, childcare, transportation issues or lack of evening or weekend hours at registration sites that keep them from registering to vote. And among those who do register to vote, a significant portion don’t subsequently make it to the polls. These are eligible voters, representing all political parties, who for various reasons find it difficult to complete the two-step process of registering and then, at least one month later, getting to the polls to cast their vote.

Studies have shown that the nine U.S. states that have adopted Election Day Registration, or EDR, have demonstrably increased voter turnout and participation by eligible voters by 3 to 6 percent. This is largely attributable to the fact that the longer the interval between registration deadlines and the actual election, the lower voter turnout is.

As adopted in those nine states, EDR allows voters to register and vote on the same day.

Research also shows that keeping voter registration open until election day allows voter participation to more closely follow the momentum of campaigns, which tend to intensify and compel voters to decide to vote in the last few weeks or days.

In New Mexico, the registration deadline falls 28 days before the election. In 2004, a total of 76.6% of eligible citizens in New Mexico were registered, but the actual turnout was just 53.6% of the voting age population.

We could improve those numbers.

Right now, the New Mexico state legislature is considering HB52, sponsored by Representative Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe), which could turn our current two-step voting process into a one-step one.

The bill is the product of a joint effort by legislators, New Mexico county clerks and the Secretary of State’s office to reach a practical compromise that increases access to the polls for eligible New Mexicans.

Trujillo’s bill would allow same-day registration and voting during a specified Early Vote Registration period, or EVR. The Early Vote Registration period would last for one month and end on the Saturday before election day. People who wish to register would need to present a photo ID or a utility bill or paycheck stub with a current, matching address. The new voter’s information would be immediately entered into the Secretary of State’s database.

Just this week, the bill passed the crucial House Voters and Elections Committee and is now headed to the Senate.

Research has shown that if New Mexico adopted EVR, it could increase voter turnout by as much as 5.6 percent. By turning voting into a one-step process, we would allow more eligible New Mexico voters to exercise their civic duty – and why would anyone, regardless of party, be against that?

Those who’ve spoken against EVR say they fear it could provide increased opportunity for voter fraud. But according to a study done by professors from the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states with EDR, or some version of it, have shown absolutely no increased evidence of voter fraud.

The research is in: It’s time for New Mexico to pass EVR and increase access to the polls for all New Mexicans.

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