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Modernize Registration, Says Bipartisan Group

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Committee To Modernize RegistrationWhy Tuesday? board member Norman J. Ornstein is among members of the new Committee to Modernize Voter Registration, which was announced on Monday and received a good deal of media attention.

As part of the same announcement, our friends at The Pew Center on the States released a report called Bringing Elections into the 21st Century: Voter Registration Modernization, which focuses on problems with the current voter registration system and has recommendations from Pew on how to fix it. You can download Pew’s report here. Keep reading for a roundup of news coverage from the debut of the new group.

The Washington Post summarizes the Pew report, and gives a brief history of the issue:

“These outmoded practices and procedures create a system that is susceptible to human error from start to finish,” the center said in a summary of its findings.

The Pew group suggests creating common standards for voter records to allow sharing of data, with the eventual goal of giving each citizen a single voter record that can be easily updated as they move around.

Calls for modernizing voter registration have arisen regularly in reaction to emotional election disputes. The 2000 presidential race resulted in a hard-fought recount battle that eventually ended in favor of Republican George W. Bush, prompting federal legislation revising vote-count procedures. Last year’s presidential race also included GOP criticisms of the tactics used by Acorn and other liberal groups that manage voter-registration drives.

The New York Times explains why the groups co-chairs decided to participate, and how they think this group will help the election reform movement:

The two chairmen of the Committee to Modernize Voter Registration — Trevor Potter, the general counsel for both of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaigns, and Marc Elias, who most recently was the lead lawyer for Senator Al Franken during the recent Minnesota recount — say their campaign experiences have persuaded them that the country needs to move toward a more automated registration system.

[snip]

The chairmen stressed that they had not worked out many of the details in a proposed overhaul of the registration system, which would likely bring more federal involvement to a system that is currently run largely by state and local governments. Mr. Elias added that, at this early stage, they were promoting themselves as a “resource for those on Capitol Hill” who would have to pass the legislation reworking the registration system.

How much would these eventual reforms cost? What would they look like? And who would benefit from the reboot? The Washington Times looks into those questions:

Neither [chairman] was ready to set a timetable for presenting Congress with draft legislation, and the two agreed that any attempt to get Congress to alter the electoral system is bound to face serious hurdles. But they also said they think carefully worded legislation can gain backing from key leaders on both sides of the aisle.

A system that automatically registers every eligible voter will give no party an obvious political edge, they said. And regularly updated lists based on federal data could ensure that elections officials have correct information on Election Day.

One outstanding question is cost. Doug Chapin, the director of Pew’s elections initiatives, said preliminary estimates suggest that a computerized system would be far less expensive then paper systems. But the upfront expense of an overhaul remains unclear, Mr. Chapin said.

Hat tip to Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog for providing links to these stories.

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