Civil rights chief makes case for automatic voter sign-ups
WASHINGTON — A top enforcer of the nation's civil rights laws on Friday said government should be responsible for automatically registering citizens to vote by using existing databases to compile lists of all eligible residents in each jurisdiction.
The proposal by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division, was made after an election with breakdowns that forced voters in many states to wait in line for hours.
In remarks at George Washington University law school, Perez said census data show that of 75 million adult citizens who failed to vote in the 2008 presidential election, 60 million were not registered and therefore ineligible to cast a ballot.
Perez said one of the biggest barriers to voting in this country is an antiquated registration system.
President Obama has said the problem must be dealt with, and “we in the Justice Department ... have already begun discussing ways to address long lines and other election administration problems, whether through proposed legislation, executive action and other policy measures,” Perez said in prepared remarks. He welcomed his audience to contribute suggestions.
“For too many people in our democracy, the act of voting has become an endurance contest,” he said. “I used to run marathons; you should not feel like you have endured a marathon when you vote.”
Perez said the current registration system is needlessly complex and forces state and local officials to manually process a crush of new registrations, most handwritten, every election season.
This leaves “the system riddled with errors, too often, creating chaos at the polls,” he said. “That's exactly what we saw at a number of polling places on Election Day last week.
“Fortunately, modern technology provides a straightforward fix for these problems — if we have the political will to bring our election systems into the 21st century,” Perez said. “It should be the government's responsibility to automatically register citizens to vote, by compiling — from databases that already exist — a list of all eligible residents in each jurisdiction. Of course, these lists would be used solely to administer elections — and would protect essential privacy rights.”
He did not say which level of government should be responsible for implementing such changes.
Perez said the nation also must address the problem that 1 in 9 Americans moves every year, but voter registration often does not move with people who move.
Election officials should work together to establish a program of “permanent, portable registration so that voters who move can vote at their new polling place on Election Day,” Perez said.
In the meantime, he said, states should implement fail-safe procedures to correct voter roll errors and omissions by allowing every voter to cast a regular, nonprovisional ballot on Election Day.
Perez supports allowing voters to register and cast ballots on the same day. He called same-day registration “a reform we should be considering seriously” because it would promote voter participation.
He said that in the 2008 presidential election, five of the six states with the highest turnout in the country were states with same-day registration.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- North Huntingdon man injured, dog dies in house fire
- Kiski River searched for possible missing kayaker
- Steelers’ defense unfazed by noise, believes in potential
- Penguins notebook: After reinterpreting rule, draft pick sought for Bylsma’s hiring
- Pirates pound Padres for 7th consecutive victory
- Man dies in North Buffalo fire
- Dormont man missing since Wednesday found dead at Station Square
- Juvenile status hearing, trial delayed in Franklin Regional stabbings
- Overhaul possible for West Mifflin’s Century III Mall
- Women’s resale boutique in Ross channels profits to animal charities
- Frye: Taking aim at DMAP permits