Friday, July 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton's voting reform calls for automated registration

Leading up to the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States, Americans have many questions that are yet to be answered. Who will be the Republican nominee? Who will be the nominee for the Democrats? What will the voter registration and the actual voting process be like in each of the individual jurisdictions across the country?

Some people are saying that Jeb Bush could gain the nomination to run under the Republican Party banner, while former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will get the nod from the Democratic Party. None of this has been officially decided yet, but that hasn't stopped Clinton from leaping onto the political stage with a few bold statements.

In early June of this year, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in Texas calling for voting law reform in the United States. While the potential presidential candidate touched on several different points in her talk, the one that is getting the most attention is the call for all Americans to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 years of age.

This would represent a major effort to encourage voter turnout among the American electorate. While it may be true that this represents just a political gambit on the part of Clinton in an effort to get votes, debating the notion of automatic and universal voter registration is a conversation that holds merit. Indeed, this could add as many as 50 million Americans to the voter rolls.

It is practically impossible for this voter reform to take place before the elections in November 2016, but the wheels could be put in motion for the mid-term elections of 2018 or possibly the next Presidential election in 2020.

The point of automatic and universal voter registration – ideally using an online or electronic voter registration system that is faster, more accurate and more efficient than manually completing and submitting a paper form – is inclusion, particularly improving access among the impoverished and the disenfranchised. By making it easier to vote and by addressing issues of voter registration, voter turnout in America would presumably improve too. And improved voter turnout makes for a better and more representative democracy.

Another reform that Hillary Clinton suggests is to extend the voting period to 20 days, providing easier access and better convenience for voters to exercise their right to franchise. This could help to reduce or even eliminate some of the remarkably long lines that have plagued previous election days, but it may or may not be effective in raising voter turnout.

Michael Waldman of says that the current “ramshackle voter registration system” in the United States “disenfranchises more people by accident than even the harshest new laws do on purpose.” A new system of automatic and electronic voter registration would practically eliminate the “piles of paper records” that plague the current system, minimizing typos and keeping voter rolls more up to date.

If the nation moves to hold more conversations regarding automatic voter registration and how it can improve voter turnout, then the American democracy could be moving in the right direction.