Earlier this afternoon, the Senate passed an amended version of HB 91, the One-Stop Voting Act, which passed the House in March 2007. Offered by Senator Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the amendment requires that all state election materials (registration forms, ballots, etc.) be printed in English only. The amended bill passed the Senate on a vote of 38-10. The legislation will now be sent to the House for a concurrence vote.
Current law prohibits anyone from registering to vote less than 25 days before an election. HB 91 would allow individuals who miss the cutoff for registration to go to any one-stop voting site, register, show proper ID, and then vote. The legislation permits, with certain safeguards, voters to register up to three days before Election Day.
- In order to vote, individuals will need to complete a registration form and sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that the signer is a resident of the United States and resides at the stated address.
- To establish residency, applicants need only present valid documents showing the person’s current name and address. Documents used to validate an address include a North Carolina driver’s license, photo identification from a government agency, a bank statement or utility bill.
Such changes to registration and residency requirements will undermine the integrity of our system of voting:
- Residency Requirements. The bill’s proof of residency requirements do not provide sufficient safeguards to ensure the integrity of the electoral system. Even with the advantages of technology, our mobile society has added to the difficulty of locating individuals and obtaining accurate information. Lowering residency requirements is only likely to exacerbate this problem.
- Confidentiality Issues. Individuals who register for in-person registration and then vote absentee at one-stop voter centers will vote with “retrievable ballots.” If necessary, these ballots can be found and pulled from official counts. Retrievable ballots are likely to raise voter privacy and confidentiality issues and face constitutional challenges.
- Verification Problems. One-stop voting allows an individual to register and submit an absentee ballot as late as four days before the election. Should questions arise, the law fails to provide sufficient time to investigate or verify information.
- Voter Fraud. Within two business days of the person’s registration, the county board of elections is required to verify the would-be voter’s drivers’ license or Social Security number, update the statewide registration database, and search for possible duplicate registrations. As part of an ongoing voter fraud investigation, the office of the state auditor recently discovered over 24,000 invalid drivers’ license numbers from a sample of state residents. Other database coding problems and questions about the quality of Social Security data suggest the state’s ability to reliably – and quickly – verify information may be compromised.
- Legal Challenges. State (office of state auditor) and federal (Department of Justice) officials are currently mounting two challenges regarding how North Carolina maintains its voter rolls. Preliminary findings from the state auditor discovered over 24,800 invalid drivers’ licenses and close to 400 individuals who “voted” after their date of death.
CAN ONE-STOP VOTING IMPROVE LOW VOTER TURNOUT?
- Proponents of HB 91 presume a person’s decision to vote is based on ease of access to ballots and other such administrative formalities. In reality, voting is more a question of conviction and motivation on the part of individual citizens.
- Despite a variety of programs to boost registration and early voting, the rate of voter turnout in the United States has remained almost constant since 1972, averaging 56 percent of eligible voters in presidential elections and about 40 percent in midterm elections.
- Most of the studies that highlight one-stop voting and same-day registration as effective means of improving voter turnout ignore methodological problems (i.e., early voting programs tend to attract partisan voters, individuals who would vote anyway) that cloud the findings.
- After studying a variety of same-day and election-day registration programs, including those in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine, professor Michael Hamner of Georgetown University concluded the impact of such programs is minimal and likely to boost voter turnout by only 3 to 4 percent.
Increasing voter turnout is a worthy goal. Targeting other factors, such as lack of education and confusion about the voting process, may prove more effective than instituting one-stop voting registration. Options include:
- Mail polling place information and sample ballots to registered voters in advance of an election. Research shows that this simple step can boost turnout, especially with less educated voters, by as much as 7 percent
- Voting is learned. Strengthen civic education in schools. Schools can take the lead in teaching civic engagement and encourage discussions about the importance of voting.
- Teach voters the basic mechanics of voting – i.e., how to actually vote using the equipment provided at polling places. Educating voters of all ages about voting mechanics can be a simple and effective way to boost turnout.