Minnesota's same-day registration success pushed for federal elections

Andy Birkey // Published May 7, 2008 in Minnesota Monitor
If the nation followed Minnesota's lead in same-day voter registration, it could drastically increase voter turnout, Minnesota legislators say. Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have offered a bill, the Election Day Registration Act, which would allow voters nationwide to register to vote at the polls for federal elections in the hopes that it will increase voter turnout.

United States voter turnout has been lower than 55 percent since 1972. During that same time frame, Minnesota's average voter turnout has been more than 70 percent. Same-day registration was enacted in 1976 in  Minnesota.

Research by Eric Ostermeier and Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance demonstrated that voters who registered at the polls accounted for 15 to 21 percent of Minnesota voters in federal elections -- or about the same margin by which Minnesota leads the nation in voter turnout (PDF).

Current federal law does not require identification for voting. Those standards are left up to the states. If the Election Day Registration Act were to pass, it would create a voter registration system that is very similar to Minnesota's.

"For over 33 years, Minnesota's same day registration law has helped produce the highest voter turnout of any state," said Klobuchar in a press statement last week. "Same day registration works, it encourages people to be engaged and interested in the issues facing our country - this bill gives a voice to every American who wants to vote."

For now, the bill is backed exclusively by Democrats, including Minnesota Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum and Jim Oberstar. A divide between Democrats and Republicans has developed, with the former looking to...

Andy Birkey :: Minnesota's same-day registration success pushed for federal elections make voting as easy as possible and the latter looking to reduce voter fraud through stricter identification standards.

David Schultz, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Institute for Law and Politics, recently released a paper looking at  the rhetoric surrounding voter identification and voter fraud. "Less Than Fundamental: The Myth of Voter Fraud and the Coming of the Second Great Disenfranchisement (PDF)," looks at how recent actions to tighten voter registration requirements, as a deterrent to voter fraud, are disenfranchising certain voters -- in much the same way the rhetoric of voter fraud was used as a reason to disenfranchise Americans 100 years ago.

"A second great disenfranchisement is afoot across the United States as, yet again, voter fraud is raised as a way to intimidate immigrants, people of color, the poor, and the powerless, and prevent them from voting," wrote Schultz.

The bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform looked into voter fraud and found 52 convictions for voter fraud by the Department of Justice since 2002. The New York Times recently looked deeper into those convictions and found that a significant majority were immigrants and felons who were confused about their voting status. In fact, one felon showed poll workers his prison-issued identification in an attempt to vote.

Schultz wrote, "[A]ssume the fifty-two convictions by the Department of Justice are accurate instances of fraud. This means that fifty-two out of 196,139,871 ballots cast in federal elections, or .00003% of the votes were fraudulent. While critics might assert that these cases represent only the tip of the iceberg, it is important to underscore that prosecutions occurred on the heels of the Justice Department taking an aggressive stance on this crime. There is a greater chance of one being hit by lightning than of an election being affected by fraud."

And as Ellison told Minnesota Public Radio recently, Minnesota's open voting process has not encouraged fraud, and instead has energized Minnesotans to become politically active. He said: "In Minnesota, we've been doing this for many, many years. It's been going really well. We have the highest voter turn out in the country. We have almost no fraud. I've never heard of a proven case. And we have a very active and civically engaged community because people can participate."