Election Day registration
Election Day registration, also known as "same-day voter registration," permits eligible citizens to correct an outdated voter registration record or register and vote on Election Day. Depending on the state, this one-step process for registering and voting may be offered on Election Day, during the early voting period or both.
Election Day registration in the United States
Pioneered by Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early-to-mid-1970s, eleven states (California, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have now enacted same-day registration (SDR). These 11 states and Washington, D.C. allow any qualified resident of the state to go to the polls or an election official's office on Election Day, register that day and then vote.
In most other states, voters must register by a deadline prior to Election Day. The deadline varies by state, with most falling between 10 and 30 days before the election.
Benefits of Election Day registration
- Increases voter turnout: States that allow Election Day registration consistently lead the nation in voter participation. Four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered Same Day Registration. Average voter turnout was over 10 percentage points higher in SDR states than in other states.
- Eliminates arbitrary deadlines that cut off registration when voters are most interested: Many citizens become most interested and engaged with elections in the last few weeks before Election Day, when candidate debates and campaigns reach their peak. But registration deadlines may already have passed at that point. Many states unnecessarily close voter registration 25 to 30 days before an election.
- Remedies inaccurate voter rolls: Many previously-registered voters lose their eligibility merely because they have moved. Others are never added to the voter rolls because of bureaucratic errors. Failure to discover these problems prior to Election Day, when registration deadlines have passed, results in eligible citizens losing their vote. With Same Day Registration, these voters can simply update registration records or register anew at the polling place and vote a ballot that will be counted.
- Assists geographically mobile, lower income citizens, young voters and voters of color: Keeping voter registration records current is a big challenge under current systems, which place the onus of updating records on the individual. Census data show that over 36 million people in America moved between 2011 and 2012, and nearly half of those moving had low-incomes. Young adults of all income levels also move more frequently—for school, for jobs, for family. Same Day Registration offers those who have recently moved but failed to update registration records another opportunity to register and vote. Research indicates that allowing young people to register to vote on Election Day could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by as much as 14 percentage points. Experts predict that Same Day Registration can be particularly effective in increasing voter participation among voters of color. That prediction was borne out in North Carolina. Though they represented 20 percent of the voting-age population, African Americans comprised 36 percent of those who used SDR to vote in the 2008 presidential election in North Carolina, the first such election when SDR was available there.
- Greatly reduces the need for provisional balloting: Provisional ballots are offered to citizens who believe they are registered but whose names do not appear on voter rolls. But more than one in four such ballots cast in the 2008 presidential election were subsequently rejected. Allowing eligible voters to register and vote on the same day greatly reduces the need for provisional ballots, helping to assure voters that their ballots will be counted and saving elections officials the time and expense of processing many provisional votes. After SDR was adopted in Iowa, provisional ballots dropped from 15,000 in the 2004 presidential election to less than 5,000 in 2008 — a 67 percent decline. North Carolina saw 23,000 fewer provisional ballots after it adopted SDR in 2008.
- NCSL.org, "Same Day Voter Registration"
- Demos, "Election Day Registration"
- Demos, "Election Day Registration: A Ground-Level View"
- NCSL.org, "Same Day Voter Registration," accessed March 20, 2014
- Demos, "What Is Same Day Registration? Where Is It Available?," accessed March 20, 2014
- Brennan Center, "Voter Registration Modernization," accessed March 20, 2014
- Washington Post, "Election Day Registration," accessed March 20, 2014
- Common Cause, "Election Day Registration," accessed March 20, 2014