Election Day

PBS Premiere: July 1, 2008Check the broadcast schedule »

Expert Roundtable: Changing the System

Spencer Overton

Spencer Overton

Author of Stealing Democracy and Law Professor at George Washington University

Spencer Overton

Election Day Registration, which allows an eligible citizen to register and then vote on Election Day, would improve American democracy.

According to the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project, between 1.5 million and 3 million ballots were lost in 2000 due to voter registration problems. In 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 8.3 million Americans reported that they were unregistered because they missed the registration deadline, did not know where or how to register or did not meet residency requirements by the registration deadline. Moving often requires re-registration, and the most transient Americans -- including but not limited to college-students, lower-income Americans and people of color -- have lower registration rates. Another 1.1 million Americans who were properly registered did not vote in 2004 because they were confused or uncertain as to their registration status.

Election Day Registration solves these problems. It allows Americans who have been improperly purged, have recently moved, or who have never been registered to simply register and vote at the polls. Currently, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming have Election Day registration.

Election Day Registration would also help the United States move out of the bottom 19 percent of the world's democracies in voter participation. According to a study by Demos, average voter turnout in Election Day registration states is 10-12 percent higher than other states. Of the five states with the highest rates of voter participation in the 2004 presidential election, four were Election Day Registration states.

Election Day Registration decreases the administrative burdens associated with processing registration applications prior to Election Day, and validating and counting provisional ballots after the polls close. Another Demos study shows that Election Day Registration states have not experienced a greater incidence of voter fraud, and concerns about fraud are particularly unwarranted in states like Indiana that require photo identification to vote.

Spencer Overton is Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, and he specializes the law of democracy. Professor Overton is the author of Stealing Democracy: The New politics of Voter Suppression, and his academic articles on election law have appeared in several leading law journals. He was also a commissioner on the Jimmy Carter-James Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform as well as the Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling. Professor Overton currently serves on the boards of Common Cause, Demos, and the American Constitution Society. Professor Overton is currently writing a book on next generation politics.