Easily the boldest — and one of the most needed — idea in Attorney General Holder’s voting rights speech last night is a proposal to modernize our voter registration system to make it easier for every American to participate in democracy:
Today, the single biggest barrier to voting in this country is our antiquated registration system. According to the Census Bureau, of the 75 million adult citizens who failed to vote in the last presidential election, 60 million of them were not registered and, therefore, not eligible to cast a ballot.
All eligible citizens can and should be automatically registered to vote. The ability to vote is a right — it is not a privilege. Under our current system, many voters must follow cumbersome and needlessly complex voter registration rules. And every election season, state and local officials have to manually process a crush of new applications – most of them handwritten – leaving the system riddled with errors, and, too often, creating chaos at the polls.
Fortunately, modern technology provides a straightforward fix for these problems – if we have the political will to bring our election systems into the 21st century. It should be the government’s responsibility to automatically register citizens to vote, by compiling – from databases that already exist – a list of all eligible residents in each jurisdiction. Of course, these lists would be used solely to administer elections – and would protect essential privacy rights.
Sadly, this basic and obvious point — that the franchise should not depend on whether a voter jumped through the right administrative hoop or whether a voting official misplaced their paperwork — is itself a point of stark contract between the Obama Administration and many of his conservative antagonists. As Holder is considering common sense ways to make our democracy function better, conservative lawmakers throughout the country are pushing laws making it harder and harder to register to vote.