WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congress introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016 which seeks to expand voter participation by making it easier for eligible Americans to move on to registration rolls. The legislation can help ease voter participation for millions of citizens who fully meet eligibility requirements, but are not registered to vote.
The legislation addresses barriers faced by many who meet eligibility criteria, but encounter difficulty obtaining information regarding voter registration deadlines, which vary by state. Also, far too many find it hard to navigate the process to register to vote or maintain their voter registration. These challenges have been documented by the National Commission on Voting Rights and the Election Protection program, two efforts organized and led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee).
“The low rates of voter turnout that we see across the country reflect the barriers and hurdles that too many Americans face when registering to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Numerous states have taken steps to create discriminatory and burdensome barriers to register to vote which greatly impact African Americans, poor people and other minority voters. Strengthening democracy requires bold action to make it easier for Americans to participate in elections. The Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016 is one important step that Congress can take to bring eligible Americans on to our registration rolls while igniting voter participation rates across our country.”
Inquiries about or problems with voter registration consistently rank in the top three of matters addressed by volunteers who staff Election Protection’s 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. These include:
- Voters unaware that they must register in order to vote
- Voters missing the registration deadline
- Voters moving and not aware they must update their voter registration
- Ballots not counting because a voter did not vote at their correct precinct because they did not update their registration
During recent primaries, problems with voter registration were among the top challenges documented by Election Protection.
A 2012 Pew Study noted that our current voter registration system is “inaccurate, costly, and inefficient” with one of eight registrations inaccurate and no longer valid. There is also an economic disparity in voter registrations. Census data released after the November 2014 elections show that only 52 percent of those earning less than $10,000 are registered while 80 percent of those registered earn $150,000 or more.
The Lawyers’ Committee has long championed efforts to modernize voter registration and was one of the first organizations to call for such legislation, including in testimony before the Senate in 2009. The Lawyers’ Committee applauds the work of House and Senate leaders who are taking the bold step to modernize and improve our voter registration system so that it meets the needs of 21st century voters.