Registration done right

REGISTRATION DONE RIGHT…. There’s more than a little room for improvement in how we run federal elections in the United States, but the registration process is certainly right up there on the list. Yglesias noted this piece from Rick Hasen on how we could register voters like the rest of the modern democracies on the planet.

The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. The Constitution grants Congress wide authority over congressional elections. The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections. High-school seniors could be signed up as well so that they would be registered to vote on their 18th birthday. When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

This change would eliminate most voter registration fraud. Government employees would not have an incentive to pad registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs. The system would also eliminate the need for matches between state databases, a problem that has proved so troublesome because of the bad quality of the data. The federal government could assign each person a unique voter-identification number, which would remain the same regardless of where the voter moves. The unique ID would prevent people from voting in two jurisdictions, such as snowbirds who might be tempted to vote in Florida and New York. States would not have to use the system for their state and local elections, but most would choose to do so because of the cost savings.

Because some drop out of school before their senior year, the system would have to be slightly more inclusive, but the broader point remains the same. A universal voter registration, established and administered by the federal government, would not only make the voting process easier, but would also eliminate perennial questions about fraud.

Generally, Republicans have been the ones most resistant to these reforms, driven by the belief that if more people are registered and able to participate in the process, Democrats will win more elections. But this is the kind of reform event the GOP can love — a national voter registration system ends ACORN registration drives and ends legal fights with secretaries of state.

It’s no brainer for the next president, regardless of party.

Post Script: Kevin goes a little further, recommending a national ID card and ending the registration process altogether.