Hungarian Court Tosses Out Voter Registration Requirement

In the United States, ten states plus the District of Columbia allow voters to register to vote on election day — effectively removing the registration requirement as an obstacle to the fundamental right to vote. In the overwhelming majority of states, however, activists and political campaigns often have to race to register voters before a deadline. And conservative politicians have even raised artificial barriers to registration in an effort to reduce the franchise.

It does not have to be this way, however. To the contrary, a constitutional court in Hungary just struck down the conservative government’s attempt to impose an American-style voter registration system on its electorate:

[Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance approved a new voting system in November in one of the most hotly contested steps of a flurry of reforms that included a new constitution and a swathe of laws that critics say entrench Fidesz’s power.

Mindful of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court has established that for those with Hungarian residency the registration requirement represents an undue restriction on voting rights and is therefore unconstitutional,” the court said in a statement.

It added that voter registration for Hungarians outside the borders was justified.

The changes would have required 8 million domestic voters to register in person or online at least two weeks before elections in 2014. Voters currently only have to turn up at polling stations on election day to be identified from an existing state-run database and cast their vote.

Automatic or mandatory voter registration systems are increasingly common in modern democracies. They are now the rule in Australia, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Admittedly, such a system would be more difficult to implement in the United States, where voter rolls are maintained by many state governments rather than one central government, but same day registration achieves many of the benefits of automatic registration by similarly ensuring that registration will not be an obstacle to voting.