Friday, May 15, 2009

PIRG recommends registration reforms

PIRG recommends registration reforms

A new US PIRG report (PDF) looks at voter registration reform as a way to save tax dollars. It's a conservative dilemma: if you're going to try to suppress the vote, it'll cost you tax dollars to check all those IDs and birth certificates.

I've always thought that registration reform is far, far more important than the equipment issues that the left obsesses about. (I had a nice long talk with a fellow techie, a non-political guy, this week, and in the circles he runs in, people want to vote on line.) Iowa has come a long way on registration reform with election day registration. Our last-chance provisional ballot numbers plummeted last year, because the overwhelming reason people cast them was "not registered."

But we still have room to improve, and PIRG has a series of recommendations to streamline the process and save money, and oh yeah, votes too:

  • A federal mandate should be passed to require affirmative and automatic registration. Specified and privacy-protected data transfers and information sharing should occur from federal and state databases to the state voter rolls as a means of continuously updating the list. By eliminating the data entry and duplicate and error verification follow-up responsibilities of local officials, there will be large cost savings at the county level.

    That's what other countries do: you don't register to vote, the government registers you. Unfortunately, America has a fair share of idiots who are actually proud of not voting, who'd resist this as an "invasion of privacy." As if we have any realistic expectation of privacy in this era.

    A lot of people misunderstand the way Motor Voter works. You don't automatically get registered when you get a driver's license; you're asked if you want to register.

    And locals are scared of the words federal mandate, so PIRG recommends:

  • Federal funding should be provided to make it possible for states to implement this mandate.

    That's what it usually comes down to: where's the $$$.

  • States should also use specified private database transfers or information sharing to keep citizens on the rolls permanently at their most up-to-date address.

    One of my biggest frustrations with Iowa law is the way we handle the annual National Change of Address (NCOA) mailing, which went out from the Secretary of State early this month. The legally required language on the card is unclear. Someone gets a card that says: "Your old address is Iowa City. Your new address is Des Moines." They sign it and send it back. A reasonable person would assume they'd updated their address to Des Moines. Nope. They just cancelled their registration entirely, and need to to take the additional step of re-registering in Des Moines.

  • States should perform same-day balloting as a catch-all for citizens.

    Works in Wisconsin, works here.

    Obviously, this report is a lefty wish list. In many places we're still fighting to keep what we already have, as the Know-Nothing anti-immigrant right fights for photo ID and proof of citizenship, which instead has the effect of disenfranchising 97 year old nuns.

    It's even an issue here in the People's Republic. The Flip No conservation bond opponents argued loudly that it was unfair that non-property owning students were able to vote, an issue I thought was settled in the 1840s. Even Hillary Clinton argued that students shouldn't caucus (she was rewarded with non-viability in our student precincts).

    In the present political climate, it's hard to imagine compromise on process issues like voting. But just for discussion,what do my readers, left and right, think of this trade-off: you get photo ID, we get same day registration and no-excuse absentees? That would be a step back in Iowa that I wouldn't support, but it would be a big improvement in most places.

    Often the best defense is a good offense, and a tip of the beret to PIRG for putting this stuff on the table. Also a hat tip to this Kos diary that brought it to my attention.
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