Pearls of Wisdom: Why Have Automatic Voter Registration?

Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill recently came out against automatic voter registration in an interview: “I don’t think that just because your birthday comes around, that you ought to be registered to vote.”

There are two ideas of what type of voter pool is at stake:

  • Some people favor only having participation from voters for whom driving to a government office, showing an ID, and filling out forms is no big deal. As Merrill puts it, “And so if you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege.”
  • Some people, including me, take the other side. I believe that our nation wants to increase the pool of voters, and that we should take every possible step to do so.
There is a lot of back and forward about whether or not automatic voter registration will actually lead to higher voter turnout on Election Day. A 2008 study by California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that about 3 million voters tried to vote but could not due to registration problems. In addition, voters may fall off the registration list after moving even if they update their driver’s license. While it is not guaranteed to increase turnout, automatic voter registration would remove these barriers for millions of Americans who want to participate fully in elections.

But regardless of the percentage point increase in turnout, the idea that we should not allow people to vote if they do not physically drive to a government office and fill out forms is absurd. Voting is a right of American citizens, whether they use it or not is beside the point. As the world’s foremost democracy, we must encourage voting not discourage it.

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