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The Vote Is Over, So What’s Next?

Friday, November 7th, 2008

NYT Photo

After having spent Election Day documenting the way folks cast ballots in North Dakota, the only state without voter registration, I was excited to read Ian Urbina’s article this morning in the New York Times about the future of the American voting system.

According to several reports, voter turnout, despite record highs in the primary election cycle, didn’t break any all-time percentage records for United States elections. Urbina focuses on two ways to increase voter participation and reduce problems on Election Day: universal voter registration and the expansion of early voting.

Many of the states that allowed early voting this year experienced few delays on Election Day, and now federal election officials, lawmakers and voting experts say people in every state should have the same privilege.

There is also increasing support for broadly expanding voter registration rolls, possibly by having the federal government require the states to make registration automatic for all eligible voters. Supporters say universal registration could reduce registration fraud and the confusion at the polls that results when voters are purged from the rolls.

Urbina’s article also explores the potential cleavages that might emerge as these types of election reforms arise, particularly between states and the federal government.

R. Doug Lewis, director of the National Association of Election Officials, a nonpartisan group that represents local and state election officials, said his members saw this as a “state’s rights issue” and were not thrilled about any possible federal takeover of registration or new laws that required early voting. But Mr. Lewis said they would support legislation that gave states incentives to help achieve these goals.

Most state election officials see the merit in early voting, Mr. Lewis said, and have become frustrated by dealing with voter registrations being submitted by third-party organizations, often in duplicate or with errors. He said state officials believed that they could do a better job than Washington in deciding how to keep the lists accurate and whether to expand them.

Another possible fix to reduce delays or problems on Election Day that didn’t make it into Urbina’s article is weekend voting or a National Election Day Holiday. In case you missed it, Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island and our board member Norman J. Ornstein penned this op-ed, which ran in the New York Times two weeks ago today about that possibility.

As a society that has been able to learn from our best and worst practices over the last 163 years, since Tuesday voting was set in 1845, we surely can do better at enhancing access to what Thomas Paine called the right by which all others are protected.

President-Elect Barack Obama shared with me his thoughts about the state of the American voting system, including his support for weekend voting, back during the primary election cycle. You can watch that interview here.

Still don’t know why we vote on Tuesday? Click here for the answer.

Photo by Isaac Brekken for The New York Times.

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