Should You Be Able to Register to Vote on Election Day?

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There are many reasons Californians don't vote. One of them has to do with voter registration. While 10 other states permit voters to register and vote on Election Day, California does not.

A bill making it through the legislature proposes to change all that. It looks like it has a good chance of becoming law, but it's controversial. Democrats have supported it, and Republicans oppose it.

Why? Both parties are operating on the assumption that the more people who vote, the better it will be for Democrats.

Republicans oppose Election-Day registration by arguing many things, including that it may make it easier to commit fraud.

Democrats have countered by designing the bill to delay the enactment of Election-Day registration until a new online voter database -- long in the making but not done -- is in place so that fraud can be quickly detected.

The fraud concerns are overblown. The real question is: will Election Day registration increase the number of Californians who vote?

Right now, the state's voter participation number are low -- with only about 5 million of more than 23 million eligible Californians casting ballots in the elections that concluded June 5.

It's probably worth a try. California requires you to be registered to vote a couple weeks before Election Day to be able to vote in that election. The trouble is that people often don't pay attention to an election until close to Election Day. So permitting registration and voting on the same day makes sense if the goal is higher turnout.

Republicans also might want to rethink their opposition. Yes, in many places, having fewer people vote might help the party's chances. But in California reality is different.

The GOP trails the Democratic Party so badly in registration that Election-Day registration is one of the few ways that Republicans might level the playing field. An exciting candidate or ballot initiative, if designed and framed right by the Republicans, could drum up interest in the party at election time.

But to take advantage of that interest, the Republicans must get behind Election-Day registration.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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