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Should States Allow Election Day Registration?

Eight states* currently let people register to vote on Election Day, and others are considering it

When we talk about the rights that Americans depend on—such as the right to free speech, due process, and equal protection under the law—we tend to assume that we get those rights automatically. And that is the case, with one important exception.

The right to vote is the only one of our constitutional rights that we have to sign up for: Under our system, we are allowed to vote only where we live. And in order to exercise this right, we have to register.

The requirement to register to vote, however, should never act as a barrier to voting.

Allowing citizens to register up to and on Election Day means that no one with a legitimate right to vote who comes to the polls is ever turned away. That's why Maine is one of eight states that offer Election Day voter registration.

The procedure is simple and secure. In the 35 years we've offered Election Day registration in Maine, there's never been a documented case of voter fraud by someone who tried to game the system.

Voters registering on Election Day must present documentation that proves their identity and where they live. If the Registrar of Voters is satisfied with their documentation, they get a certificate, go to their polling place, present their certificate, and get a ballot. It's simple for the voter and secure for the public.

Voting is about doing your part to make government work. Much is at stake in every election, and protecting the security and integrity of the process is critical. We should make voter participation as welcome—and easy—as possible.

Matthew Dunlap
Secretary of State, Maine

Montana offered Election Day voter registration for the first time in 2006. Since then, we've experienced a number of problems with the system, which is why I don't support the practice and would like to see Montana change the law that allows it.

Election officials and the many people they hire as poll workers already have a great deal to do on Election Day.

Officials must direct voters to the correct polling place, help at polling places, be available to answer poll workers' questions about the many unusual situations that arise, count ballots, and report results to the media.

It's a misuse of election workers' limited time to also require them to register new voters. In some counties, the extra demands have kept Montana voters in line as late as midnight, and also led to allegations of election law violations.

Our experience has also shown that the process of registering voters on Election Day is fraught with complications. A voter's personal information must be entered and verified in the statewide voter database, then checked against his or her driver's license or Social Security number. When problems arise, there may not be enough time to resolve them for ballots in question to be counted.

People who want to vote have plenty of time to register before Election Day—months and months, in most cases.

Election Day is just too important to throw additional complications into the mix. There's no reason to jeopardize the overall functioning of Election Day by sidetracking officials with something that can, and should, be handled ahead of time.

Brad Johnson
Secretary of State, Montana

* Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming